A recent survey of 142 professional historians has ranked Donald Trump as our fourth-worst president. Is this a fair assessment of Trump's future place in objective rankings of American presidents?
No. There is no way that Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Andrew Johnson deserve, in the perspective of history, to be considered as more injurious to the well-being of the United States than Trump.
Drawing on my flimsy credentials (an M.A. in American History, from decades ago), I would respectfully take issue with my confreres.
Note that the trio considered worse than Trump are the two presidents preceding Abraham Lincoln and the one following him. Now in comparison to Lincoln -- by acclamation our best president -- anyone looks bad. But historians seem to be hung up over the Civil War, since it is our worst historical tragedy.
Pierce and Buchanan were ineffectual presidents whose dithering, and deference to the South, contributed to the coming of the war. But neither can be blamed for the war, or for its casualties. It is doubtful that the Civil War could have been avoided, given the deep divisions in the nation, by any president.
Pierce's policies -- the Kansas-Nebraska Act, enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act -- deepened these divisions. Buchanan's response to threatened secession of Southern states was a monument to ineffectual leadership.
Andrew Johnson was clearly a racist trying to uphold white supremacy and totally inept in his dealings with Congress. It is not by accident that he was the first president to be impeached (if not convicted).
What's notable is that all three of these miserable neer-do-wells were pulled down by their attempts to placate the South. In our era, where racism is quite correctly considered beyond the pale, this puts a special opprobrium on them. But what about a president who advances racism in the 21st century?
Pierce, Buchanan, and Johnson were among the few one-term presidents not even renominated by their own parties. And deservedly so.
But none of them attempted an illegal coup d'état by pressing Congress to refuse to certify valid electoral votes and by encouraging the only violent domestic invasion of the Capitol in U.S. history.
None of them refused to face a pandemic that left the United States, with only 5 percent of the world's population, with an estimated 15 percent of world's deaths by the disease. None of them directly bear responsibility for hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths.
None of them alienated our closest allies to such an extent that a key leader declared that the era of dependence of U.S. leadership had ended.
None of them lied an estimated 30,000 times in public statements during their term in office. None of them bragged about groping women or was credibly accused by dozens of women with sexual assault.
None of them consistently revealed themselves to be little more than a schoolyard bully allowed for far too long to ride roughshod over others.
No, it's really no contest. Donald wins this one by a wide margin.