“The measure of a man is what he does with power.” — Plato
COMMENTARY: The first president in my memory was Dwight Eisenhower. I was born when Truman served but don’t remember him. My father was a career military man. He happily had a badge, “I like Ike.”
As someone who studies presidents, it seems that in a hundred years people may consider Eisenhower the best president of the 20th Century. What he did with power was good and he didn’t tell the press.
What makes me think of this is social media proclaiming the best and the worst presidents without research. We must agree on how to judge a president. Many presidents were very popular during their lives and subsequently dropped as details of their presidency came out. Warren G. Harding was one.
Here are my five worst presidents: absolute worst was Teddy Roosevelt. Next was James Polk. Then Andrew Johnson. Next was Lyndon Johnson, and fifth worst was Herbert Hoover. I can write a thousand words about their actions that landed them on my bad list. Maybe later.
My picks for best presidents involves them doing things others of their generation would not have done. Washington set the bar high. After him I admire Abraham Lincoln, who no one at the time expected to be nominated. He was awful his first year as he tried to grow into the job. Then providence smiled upon him for the ages.
Lincoln almost single-handedly ended slavery in our country. He didn’t run to do it but came to understand how he needed to use his presidential powers. Likewise, Thomas Jefferson was bright, but there were a dozen bright politicians when he decided to run for president.
Once in office Jefferson allowed his curiosity of plants and animals to evolve into sending the Corps of Discovery under the command of Lewis and Clark across North America. In a three-year period, what was known about the North American West was increased way beyond anyone’s expectations.
Speaking of a good president: Calvin Coolidge agreed to be vice president but did not have greater expectations. He was a quiet effective person who, when thrust into the presidency, took us out of a bad economic time and gave us the “Roaring Twenties.” He, like Eisenhower, did not toot his horn — so many people do not realize how good both were at being president.
Ronald Reagan likewise took our nation out of a bad economic time and gave us nearly two decades of prosperity. He almost single-handedly took the Soviet Union down when no one thought it could be done. And he inspired many Americans with his presidency.
Which brings us to Donald Trump. No one can tell how he will be viewed in a hundred years, and as the saying goes, “A hundred years from now it is all new people.” But there are things we can see, both good and bad, that give us a framework to watch him as he conducts his four years of being president.
Trump already is someone that does not do like the swarms of politicians do in our nation’s capital. That may be both good and bad. Not many thought he had a chance to win, but he did. In that he is like Lincoln, who ended up with the nomination while the political leaders scratched their heads and wondered how he did it.
Lincoln also was a polarizing figure, whether he was loved or hated. In fact, nine states seceded from the Union before he was inaugurated based on their hatred of him. Trump is also like Jefferson in that he is interested in lots of stuff, but not politics.
We can see that Donald Trump is his own man, and no one waving money will get his attention. Like Lincoln, newly elected Donald Trump is hated by the press.
He can grow into the job of the presidency or not. Only time will tell. He may join the others on my list as a great president but he must do things, not just talk. We have had enough talk. It is time for action to get our people back to work and the economy going. Let’s see how he uses his power.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers. Swickard’s new novel, Hideaway Hills, is now available at Amazon.com.