Where would you rank Donald Trump on a list of the greatest Presidents of the United States? Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said, “Trump could be the greatest President in history,” but the context of his statement is not known. Senator Orrin Hatch said, “Trump can be Abraham Lincoln great.”
However, the respondents to a recent New York Times survey of “presidential politics experts” ranked Trump last on the list. These same “experts” ranked Barack Obama at #8, Bill Clinton at #13, and Jimmy Carter at #26. They also ranked #10 Lyndon Johnson six spaces above #16 John F. Kennedy. Some of these so-called experts believe that Lincoln, Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt should have their likenesses carved into Mount Rushmore – apparently not knowing that they are already there.
Richard Lim posted an interesting article at The Daily Signal encouraging us not to judge Trump so early in his presidency. He shares some interesting information about two presidents who were judged harshly during their administrations, but whom history has proven their critics to be wrong. Those two presidents are Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
Lim says that Eisenhower “was dismissed by critics as passive and disengaged” throughout his administration. His critics did not think that he had the “intellectual heft to be president.” He was ranked as a “below-average president” (21 out of 31) a year after he left office. Lim then states Eisenhower’s accomplishments.
Of course, presumptions about Eisenhower’s intellect ignored the fact that he was one of the most accomplished military figures in American history, leading the successful invasion of Normandy in 1944 and serving as the first supreme commander of NATO.
Since then, historians have discovered that Eisenhower’s supposed passivity was a misperception that resulted from his preference for working behind the scenes, and that in actuality, he was fully in charge of his presidency.
They also note that Eisenhower deftly handled several Cold War crises in the nuclear age (in the Taiwan Strait, the Suez Canal, and in Lebanon, to name a few), all the while keeping the peace.
In some ways, Eisenhower’s genial persona was a valuable political asset that he exploited to maximum political benefit. It allowed him to remain above the fray, immune to petty politics.
In 2017, a C-Span survey of academics ranked Eisenhower as the fifth-greatest president, even ahead of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson.
The so-called experts were wrong about Eisenhower, but their errors did not stop them from judging Reagan severely. Lim says that they dismissed him as “an intellectual lightweight, and `amiable dunce.’” They believed that he was “a right-wing war monger whose defense budget increases and tough rhetoric against the Soviet Union (or, as he called it, the `evil empire’) could lead to nuclear war.” Later in his presidency they accused him of not being aware of what was happening. Reagan said in 1980 that he was willing to work with the Russians to reduce nuclear weapons, but his critics did not believe he was serious. Lim shares what happened when Reagan had his chance.
But when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev took power in Moscow in 1985, Reagan found a willing partner. The rapport they built up in their summits in Geneva in 1985 and Reykjavik in 1986 helped to end the Cold War.
Reagan’s critics no longer could question his sincerity when he and Gorbachev signed a treaty in 1987 that eliminated all intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles – far beyond what any previous Democrat or Republican president had achieved in nuclear arms control.
While Eisenhower’s critics misjudged his capabilities, Reagan’s misjudged both his capabilities and his intentions. When he said he was willing to talk with the Soviets and reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, he really meant it, and proved it by his actions.
I was a child when Eisenhower was in office and do not remember much about what he did. However, I had the understanding that he was well loved and well respected. In fact, my brother-in-law loved him so much that he named his dog Ike in honor of the late president. I remember the administration of Reagan and had great love and respect for him. Lim did not mention it, but Reagan was responsible for calling out Gorbachev to “tear down this [Berlin] wall.” He was instrumental in tearing down the Iron Curtain that had been in place since the end of World War II.
As long as the people who take surveys are biased in their opinions, the wrong presidents will be counted as “great.” Nevertheless, history gives a more honest picture of how well a president does. I agree with Lim that we should not be too tough on Trump now. He inherited a bigger mess from Obama than Reagan inherited from Carter and has much to accomplish to put the US in good condition. Trump could very well be ranked among the greatest presidents after all is said and done – and history always has its say.