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Democracy

The new historical presidential rankings are out and Trump's debut isn't impressive

The new historical presidential rankings are out and Trump's debut isn't impressive
via Wikimedia Commons

The Donald Trump presidency was an in-your-face era of American politics that was the first to move at the speed of social media. Every day the news cycle seemed to churn multiple times. There were the scandals, palace intrigue, reckless tweets, lurid affairs, impeachments, legal battles, arrests, comings and goings of cabinet members, and the daily destruction of presidential norms.

Trump's time in the White House had everyone's head on such a swivel that it was nearly impossible to grasp its historical meaning in real-time.


But now, the waters are calmer in Washington and we are getting the first bird's eye view of what the era meant to historians.

Spoiler alert: it isn't positive.

Since 2000, C-SPAN has asked a group of historians, professors, and experts in the field to rate each president on a scale of 1 to 10 on 10 categories: Public Persuasion, Crisis Leadership, Economic Management, Moral Authority, International Relations, Administrative Skills, Relations with Congress, Vision/Setting an Agenda, Pursued Equal Justice for All, and Performance Within the Context of the Times.

The responses resulted in a definitive ranking of the presidents from 1 to 44. Currently, Joe Biden is the 46th president and Grover Cleveland was elected twice, so 44 people have held the office.

Trump's debut on the list is a less-than-impressive #41. The only three presidents who fared worse are Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, and James Buchanan and they aren't the best historical company.

Pierce failed to stop a bloody guerrilla war in Kansas between pro- and anti-slavery groups. Andrew Johnson was the first president to be impeached and James Buchanan's inaction led to the Civil War.

Trump was impeached twice, is accused of inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and was criticized for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among all presidents, Trump was ranked last in Moral Authority. He fared better in Public Persuasion where he was ranked 32nd and Economic Management, where he was 34th.

Four years after leaving office, Barack Obama has seen his ranking increase from #12 to #10. Obama's improved ratings for Relations with Congress and Context of Times both propelled him upward.

Another recent president, George W. Bush has seen his ranking rise as well. Bush now ranks at #29, up from #33 in 2017, and #36 in 2009.

The presidential rankings have remained steady at the top. Since 2009, the top four presidents have been Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Here's the full top 20:

1. Abraham Lincoln

2. George Washington

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt

4. Theodore Roosevelt

5. Dwight D. Eisenhower

6. Harry S. Truman

7. Thomas Jefferson

8. John F. Kennedy

9. Ronald Reagan

10. Barack Obama

11. Lyndon B. Johnson

12. James Monroe

13. Woodrow Wilson

14. William McKinley

15. John Adams

16. James Madison

17. John Quincy Adams

18. James K. Polk

19. William J. Clinton

20. Ulysses S. Grant

The bottom 5:

40. William Henry Harrison

41. Donald J. Trump

42. Franklin Pierce

43. Andrew Johnson

44. James Buchanan


See the full rankings at C-SPAN.

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