One of the favorite pastimes of historians is to rate our presidents. Was Reagan a better president than Carter who preceded him? Probably not. Was Bush One a more effective president than his son? Yes. Was James Buchanan, who brought us a civil war, worse than Andrew Johnson who was plastered during his inauguration as v.p.? A tie.

Perhaps not all historians agree with my judgment about these guys, but there is a virtual consensus about the best presidents: Lincoln, Washington, and FDR. They had vision and they had integrity. They also had an ability to command respect even from people who rejected their policies (well, not completely, as John Wilkes Booth would testify if he were still around).

So what will historians say about the current occupant of the White House? I suspect their judgment will be influenced greatly by one simple fact: most historians respect the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the framework of the Constitution.

President Trump respects neither, perhaps because he never read either document.

Evidence? He once said that he wants to protect Article 12 of the Constitution. That might be admirable if there was an Article 12.

The First Amendment protects our right to a free press. He hates a free press. “Fake news,” he says, complaining that “some of those reporters are bad people, very bad people, believe me.” And so he calls for changes to the law of libel so that he can prosecute or sue those who criticize him.

George Washington, in his famous Farewell Address, used the first-person pronoun barely a half dozen times (“I hope…” I trust”).

Lincoln in his Gettysburg address, not once. But Mr. Trump is a narcissist. He refers to himself all the time. Read his speeches. He even recently called himself “the Chosen One.

Then there is the matter of truth. Truth was sacred to Washington and Lincoln.

Not, however, to our current president. The Washington Post, which keeps careful track of these things, notes (with reams of detail) that he has lied or made misleading statements over 12,000 times. 12,000! That more times than his companies have declared bankruptcy. That’s more times than he claimed that “bone spurs” prevented him from military service during the Vietnam War.

Will he be impeached because he tried to extort a foreign government into digging up dirt on one of his potential rivals in the 2020 presidential race? Will he willingly walk away from the White House if he loses the 2020 election? And if he loses, will he claim that the 2020 election was rigged just as he claimed in September 2016 that the 2016 election was rigged? He only changed his tune after he won.

So where will historians finally place him in comparison to the 44 presidents who preceded him? Far be it from me to judge, for we historians are a patient lot. We’ll leave it to the pundits to tell him what he doesn’t want to hear.

 

Historian Gary B. Ostrower lives in Alfred.