“No President in Living Memory Has Done More Damage”: Historians Give Trump the Worst Rating Ever

by Jessica

According to a report by Newsweek on Sunday, February 18, 2024, a new survey of historians has ranked Donald Trump as the worst president in American history.

The poll, conducted by C-SPAN, placed Trump at the very bottom of all presidents, below James Buchanan who previously held the lowest ranking.

Historians cited Trump’s poor leadership during crises, his attacks on democratic institutions, and his failure to bring the country together as key reasons for his low ranking.

“Trump showed little interest or ability in governing the entire nation,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

“He catered to his political base and used the presidency to promote his own business interests rather than the common good.”

The survey asked historians to grade each president on 10 qualities of leadership including public persuasion, crisis leadership, and moral authority. Trump received extremely low marks in nearly every category.

On crisis leadership, historians faulted Trump for his poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic which led to over 1 million American deaths on his watch.

He downplayed the threat, ignored and belittled scientific expertise, and failed to marshal a strong federal response.

“Trump’s failure to respond quickly and decisively to the coronavirus outbreak was an abdication of leadership that cost countless lives,” said historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Trump also received harsh criticism for his role in the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. Historians argued that his lies about the 2020 election and pressure on state officials to overturn results directly led to the unprecedented assault on American democracy.

“No president did more to weaken faith in democracy than Donald Trump,” said presidential biographer Jon Meacham. “The January 6th insurrection was the culmination of his war on truth and attempt to remain in power illegitimately.”

On the positive side, some historians credited Trump’s unconventional foreign policy for helping ease tensions with North Korea.

His direct diplomatic engagement with Kim Jong Un was seen by some as helping pull back from the brink of war.

However, presidential scholar Robert Dallek noted that North Korea continued expanding its nuclear program under Trump’s watch.

And historian Michael Beschloss argued that Trump’s policies dangerously undermined international alliances and institutions.

In the end, historians overwhelmingly viewed Trump as a divisive figure who threatened the foundations of American democracy itself.

Presidential historian Timothy Naftali summed up the consensus view: “Donald Trump places last because he impulsively and dangerously wielded presidential power without respect for constitutional and democratic norms. No president in living memory has done more damage.”

The bottom ranking for Trump capped a remarkable fall from his initial standing in the same poll conducted just weeks after he took office in 2017.

At that time, historians rated Trump ahead of Buchanan, albeit still in the bottom quartile of presidents.

“Trump’s disastrous four years in office caused historians to reassess just how bad he was relative to the weak presidents of the 19th century,” Brinkley explained.

While historians ranked Trump at the very bottom, Americans have a more favorable view.

A recent Gallup poll showed Trump with a 45% retrospective job approval rating, higher than Truman, Nixon, Carter and other presidents ranked well ahead of him by scholars.

Naftali attributed this divergence to Trump’s enduring appeal among his loyal supporters in the face of overwhelming evidence of incompetence and abuse of power.

“Trump’s talent for propaganda allowed him to float above his failures in the eyes of his followers,” Naftali said. “But history will judge his presidency a reckless assault on American democracy that threatened the republic itself.”

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