This blog post is unnecessary. Its utility is questionable at best. And it’s certainly not timely. The absurdity and offense of the Trump administration have already been scrutinized, exposited and critiqued by millions of people better-equipped than me. There are a thousand articles from reputable outlets on why Trump is, was and forever will be unfit for the highest office in this country and no one needs a bloggy think-piece from me saying so. But I need it. I need to lance this boil and lay out for my own satisfaction why Donald Trump is the worst president in history.
The first time I knew Donald Trump was someone I didn’t like was when I watched the 2009 documentary “Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?” from ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. The film’s answer to its own question, as it turns out, was Donald Trump, who, driven by unmerited hubris, managed to torpedo the upstart league through a series of moronic decisions. Sound familiar?
When the filmmaker, Michael Tollin, confronts Trump with these missteps, Trump cuts the interview short and walks away, which is kind of his thing. This was before the golden escalator, before his racist conspiracy theory that our first black president wasn’t born here. Everything we needed to know about Donald Trump and his fatal flaws was already there in a 2009 sports documentary.
But none of what we already knew about the politically flip-flopping, bankruptcy-declaring, cocksure Trump seemed to matter in 2016. Trump managed to ride a wave of insults, sloganeering and windbaggery all the way to the Republican nomination. I thought for sure when Trump, a five-time-deferred rich kid, insulted the military service of John McCain that his candidacy would be toast. Those were certainly the old rules of politics. When he was instead rewarded with more loyalty, I knew this country had moved past the old rules and was in deep trouble.
Still, when he ascended to that office, I hoped for the best. I was one of those who bought into the narrative that the weight of the presidency would moderate him, that his loss of the popular vote would give him pause and compel him to lead with more humility. That illusion evaporated in days if not hours, which is more than I can say for previously respectable senators. Trump sent his press secretary out to make the obviously falsifiable claim that he had the largest inauguration crowd in history and asserted that he actually won the popular vote, which would have involved voter fraud on the scale of three million. That he clearly existed in a world of fantasy was unsettling enough. That people decided to enter it with him was distressing. We had become a post-truth country.
Several in the media and practically all of the GOP kept holding out a laughably naïve hope for a “new tone” and were consistently punked. At no point did he ever stop being his narcissistic, hateful, prejudicial self.
For me, it is hard to lay out the worst elements of the Trump presidency, like being asked to sort through a landfill of shame ranging from the embarrassingly petty to the arguably criminal. For me, personally, the core evil is the knot that binds Trump, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. The latter is particularly sinister in his unflagging mission to purge America of human beings that threaten his bigoted ideal of American culture.
Trump was happy to play along, railing against aiding “shithole countries,” dramatically reducing refugee admission, banning travelers from Muslim countries. But nothing was quite as inhumane as his enactment of Family Separation as a deterrent to both illegal Mexican border crossing and legal claims to asylum. The policy took small children from the arms of their parents and put them in chain-linked cages with concrete floors. Some of these innocent children will likely never find their way back. To try and explain away their inhumanity, the administration argued that earlier administrations established this precedent. But there was just no precedent for visiting this level of cruelty on immigrants at our southern border.
Beyond his agenda seeming to be catering to America’s worst xenophobic and racist tendencies, Donald Trump was just plain ineffectual at the job of President of the United States. In addition to signing legislation into law, the primary functions of a president are world diplomacy, commanding our armed forces and uniting the citizenry as an exemplary leader. Donald Trump destroyed our diplomacy by kneecapping the State Department and offending every democratic ally he could. Meanwhile, he was perfectly happy to do the bidding of Turkey and North Korea.
But it is in his role as unifier that Trump failed the most. This is the part of the job description that requires no approval from congress, no approbation by the courts, only a desire to put the unity of the country before your own interests.
At every turn, Donald Trump opted to foment disunity, drive wedges between Americans and encourage violence. He has been a willing courier of conspiracy theories, a spreader of lies and half-truths in the style of ALL CAPS propaganda. All of it done to raise the temperature of public dialog, especially online social media. Anger fuels his base and he feeds on his base’s approval. It is a codependency of grievance, self-pity and hate.
In obedience to these impulses, trump has cleared out peaceful protestors using tear gas, asked U.S. Citizens to leave the country and waged an unrelenting campaign to undermine the free press. And as I type this, he is continuing to question the results of the 2020 presidential election, which he lost by a wide margin, sowing suspicion about the integrity of our election system. At this point, it’s fair to ask if there is any pillar of a free country to which Donald Trump has not taken a pickaxe.
If all of this could be described as termites under the building, COVID-19 was the wrecking ball. No other event fully lays bare Trump’s incompetence and indifference like our current public health crisis, this pandemic. His failure as a leader has cost thousands upon thousands of lives. No one will know how many could have been saved if he’d not implied the virus was a “hoax,” endorsed quack medicine and bizarre conspiracy theories. We’ll never know what it would have been like to have a leader who lead by example, promoted mask use, leveraged the full power of the federal government to test, contact trace, distribute PPE. If he had done the bare minimum demanded by good sense and common decency, he would have saved American lives. Instead, we were left with a president who undermined his own CDC and whose two responses to a fearful and ailing country were “it is what it is” and “you’re a terrible reporter.”
And how could I possibly catalog the remaining ignominy of the Trump administration? If every moment of Trump’s contempt for humanity were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
I’ve been asked if I will be applying this same level of critique to our incoming president, Joe Biden. My answer is of course I will, but I also do not anticipate Joe Biden constantly insulting his fellow Americans, promoting conspiracy theories with no evidence, undermining his own staff via tweet, attempting to use the justice department as his own personal law firm, etc. If he does, I’ll be the first in the streets.
Some will say, “Ah, but what about Biden’s sexual assault and, oh by the way where’s Hunter,” but you must remember to always compare like to like. One is an allegation and the other a hearsay theory. It’s true, Biden faced a sexual assault allegation from one woman. Trump faces allegations from 26. There is a hearsay theory that Biden abused his position to get his son a job. There are hearsay theories that Trump is laundering money through his Scotland golf courses, is the puppet of foreign interests, is using his position as president to profit personally, peed on a prostitute. You must always compare conspiracy theory to conspiracy theory, allegation to allegation, deed to deed. Every comparison must be made on the same plane of fact.
Donald Trump has no use for facts. If one message from the White House has been clear for the past four years, it has been this: “don’t believe them, believe me.” In that, he finds common ground with abusers and cult leaders. Whether it is every media outlet that won’t flatter him, respected leaders like Robert Gates and James Mattis or a thousand historians who have read this authoritarian bedtime story before, Trump continues to insist that his version of “truth” is the only one that matters. My direct question to Donald Trump is what on earth have you ever done to earn my trust?
We will not know for several years, perhaps decades, how disastrous the Trump presidency has been. Truth has a pesky habit of finding its way to sunlight over time. But what is known now is enough to declare that Donald Trump is the worst president we have ever had. He has stubbornly put the interests of his ego over the interests of the American people, their security and their general welfare. He is no patriot. He is a weak, petty, vindictive spoiled brat. And to top it off, a bad loser.