Trump: Let History Judge
We can get food in minutes (seconds if we’re really in a hurry), can follow breaking news in real time, and consider last week ancient history. So, even before the Jan. 6 riot and attempted insurrection that temporarily halted approval of the Electoral College results, many had already judged the job President Donald Trump has done as horrible.
In the aftermath of the shock to the nation’s system, including this week’s threatened (second) impeachments, many will likely rush to consign him to the very bottom of the list. Such impulses will be understandable, yet I see them as premature.
As with every other president who has occupied the Oval Office, we will need time and measured judgment to gauge the long-term impact of his performance. No matter how upset we may be today, history hasn’t had time to judge Trump’s presidency.
In a Fox News poll released in early December, 42 percent of respondents said history would remember our outgoing president as one of the worst of all time. Six weeks later, twice as many might answer in the affirmative.
To temper current outrage, I recall how recall how the fading economy, indignity of hostages being held by Iran, and general malaise had sunk Jimmy Carter’s approval ratings in the late 1970s. In those days, folks were fond of saying that we needed a good leader like Harry Truman—who in the latter stages of his presidency faced popularity ratings worse than Carter’s.
Last week, a friend from college I haven’t seen for a while sent me a biography of Truman, commenting that we face challenges today similar to those of the 1940s.
While I haven’t read too much of the book yet, I couldn’t help noticing a marked contrast drawn in the first chapter. When under consideration for the vice-presidential nomination prior to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth term, Time magazine scoffed at Truman as “the mousy little man from Missouri.” Yet the author said only four presidents in the 20th century can claim great or near-great leadership. One of them was Truman.
Given the lukewarm reaction to Truman as his presidency neared its end, I can say it is also true that in the aftermath of Jan. 6’s ignominious events, it’s too soon, reactions too emotional, and perspectives too narrow to truly evaluate what kind of leader Trump has been.
If history will judge Trump like the 42 percent who were already poised to consign him to the ash heap, it will be after several more decades have passed.
Only once current leaders are gone from the scene and other events—whose seeds were planted in 2016-2020—have taken place will academicians and others be able to more dispassionately evaluate him as a leader.
I remember when President Bill Clinton’s peccadilloes led to impeachment in 1998. However, his misdeeds didn’t compare to the sexual escapades of John F. Kennedy, a president who had been fondly remembered after his assassination.
Yet, by the time of Clinton’s impeachment, JFK was starting to be seen as a more human and less heroic figure. Indeed, JFK’s sexual escapades made Clinton look almost saintly by comparison. That’s because history had begun to judge Kennedy, as it will Trump. We just need to wait a while for jury selection.