Thursday, January 14, 2021

Is Trump the Worst US President?

In terms of personal character, he may indeed be the worst in a great long time. But is he in fact the worse overall?

Nah. He's not even the worst president this century. 

Democratic theorists, ever enamored of democracy and democratic procedure, might be inclined to exaggerate the badness of Trump's recent actions. They are indeed very bad. I agree Trump should be impeached and removed; indeed, I agree Pence should have invoked the 25th to deactivate him. 

The peaceful transition of power is an extremely valuable norm. All sort of horrors follow when it disappears.

It might well be that in the coming years, we'll discover that Trump has unleashed the Kraken on the US, and we will see long-term disfunction in democratic transitions. If there's an actual coup in a few years, that would indeed be a disaster.

 (That said, in 2016 and 2017, we also saw lots of Democrats believing stupid conspiracy theories about the Russians. These Democrats also were adopting anti-democratic norms in reaction to Trump, but it wasn't Trump's fault. We must be careful not to attribute all the anti-democratic behavior we now see to Trump.)

Nevertheless, compare Trump to Bush II. Bush II started two horrible wars which not only costs tremendous amounts of money, but which lead (as expected) to the mass deaths of innocent civilians, continuous civil wars, corrupt pseudo-democratic government, and on-going bloodshed and instability. Bush II is responsible for the Patriot Act and the mass violation of American's civil rights. Bush II continued the dumb Clinton policies which lead to the Great Recession. 

If an evil demon appeared before you and said, "You must now choose either to repeat all the horrors Bush II inflicted on the world or all the horrors Trump inflicted thus far," it'd be far better to pick Trump (so far) than Bush II. 

Again, if Trump actually induces a fascist coup of the US government over the next few years, and this was indeed the equivalent of the Beer Hall Putsch, then sure, Trump way well turn out to be worse. But as of now, while Trump is a terrible human being and Bush II is in way a good guy who performed horribly, nevertheless, the Bush II presidency was far worse for the world than the Trump presidency. 

Still, Trump ought to be removed and you are right to despise him. Just remember that blowing up innocent Iraqi civilians and subjecting them to decades of horrific war is much, much worse than inducing that crowd to occupy the Capitol building. 

Update 1: P.S., one way you might argue for Trump being worse is to say something like this: "If Clinton had been president, she would have been so competent that we would have had like 20,000 COVID deaths instead of 400,000". She probably would have done a better job, and I expect could have cut the total by 10%. But it's fantasy to imagine she'd have cut it dramatically. We don't really know now why some places have so many few deaths than others, though it's fun to point to New Zealand and pretend every country could have been the same with only enough political willpower. 

Update 2: On Facebook, Andrew Doris has a good point which can help clarify this blogpost. We can distinguish A) Trump's actual performance vs Bush II's, from B) Trump's and Bush II's overall character an expected performance. I'd say Trump's actual harms are far lower than Bush II's. But given how corrupt Trump is and given that Bush II seems to have decent character and have learned somewhat from his mistakes, I'd say that if given the choice between a second Trump term or a third Bush II term, we should pick Bush II. The Trump presidency was not as disastrous as the Bush II presidency, but right now Bush II would make a better future president.