ON THE CONLAWPROF EMAIL LIST, which I’m no longer on, a professor asks where you’d put Trump on a list of world leaders. The professor is generous enough to put Trump ahead of Stalin, but not much else. Seth Barrett Tillman replies:
Professor ZZZ asks: “[W]here [would] you put Trump?”
No new, major land war(s) in Asia—so Trump is ahead of LBJ.
No missile crisis risking an exchange of nuclear weapons with a superpower—so Trump is ahead of JFK.
No wars of national conquest—so Trump is ahead of Polk (Texas) and McKinley (Philippines, Cuba).
No move to war after foreign power made full, reasonable efforts to amicably settle reasons for dispute—so Trump is ahead of Madison (War of 1812). Under Madison, we burned down the capital of British North America (York/Toronto), and they returned the favor in Washington. So Trump beats Madison.
No wars against native American tribes—so Trump is ahead of [fill in the blank—many such presidents could be listed here].
No wars based on poor intelligence or to prop up foreign absolute monarchies—so Trump is ahead of both Bush I and Bush II.
Trump has not interned 100,000s of US citizens based on race—so Trump is ahead of FDR.
Trump has not allowed a U.S. state or territory to go into civil war and then allow its government to be hijacked by the brigands who engineered the civil war—so Trump is ahead of Buchanan (Bleeding Kansas).
I still don’t know why President Clinton blew up an aspirin factory or why Secretary Clinton permitted NATO forces and materiel to blow up Libya—so Trump probably comes out ahead of both of them too.
Trump is ahead of Woodrow Wilson: World War I, and! his resegregation of the federal civil service. I grant you that being ahead of Wilson is not saying much…but then, the nation survived Wilson, and no one today thinks of Wilson as having lowered the bar vis-a-vis future presidents. Professor ZZZ seems to be worried about this. He wrote: “Having a POTUS so publicly awful along those lines lowers the horrible bar so dramatically that we will pay for years to come.” Really?—Will we pay for it in years to come, or is this just a shabby slippery slope-type argument?
I cannot say I see much sense in Professor ZZZ’s references to Roy Cohn. Roy Cohn’s permanent claim to fame is his association with McCarthy and aggressive anticommunism. Trump, by contrast, has been criticized for being too close to Putin. It is not exactly the same; actually, the two are not alike at all.
If words and pretty speeches are the measure of a president, then Trump comes up short. The question is whether that is the correct standard for measuring presidents in a dangerous world.
No, but words and pretty speeches are what academics are capable of evaluating.