1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Six: Presidents
So, let’s review the presidents we’ve had since 1998: A sexually harassing policy wonk, a genial imbecile, a malevolent imbecile, and Barack Obama.
I don’t think we do presidents well.
This assessment is bolstered by looking at the other five presidents who have been in office in my lifetime (in order, a crook, a placeholder, an ineffectual overthinker, an Alzheimer’s sufferer and George HW Bush, who was not my brand of politics but otherwise was perfectly middlin’, as far as presidents go). We could blame a lot of things for our generally less-than-excellent presidents, including the electoral college, low voter turnout relative to other countries, billionaires funding our political system, and the fact that we in general default to “when in doubt, vote for the guy you’d have a beer with” as a legitimate voting tactic. But after a while you have to suspect that the reason we don’t have great leaders is that we, or at least a large percentage of us, just plain don’t want them.
Mind you, if you had asked me in 1998, I would have been just fine with Bill Clinton, and even now I’m perfectly willing to grant he was a generally effective president whose political inclinations were (and are) largely in step with mine. He was very smart, very knowledgeable about politics, and was savvy enough that when the Republicans came for him with impeachment charges, he came out of the process with higher approval rating than when the process started. It’s not for nothing he was called “Teflon Bill.”
But hey, you know what? He almost certainly was a sexual harasser! And he did have sex with Monica Lewinsky, thank you very much, and was entirely wrong as president to have gotten that blow job from a friggin’ intern. Here in the #MeToo era we can call him for what he was, and not make excuses for him. I don’t have any issue with whatever arrangement he and Hillary Clinton may have had (if they had one) for his extracurricular activities, and I don’t care what he did with other consenting adults he consorted with. But the man crossed enough lines prior to his presidency, and as president, shouldn’t have been doing anything with the interns other than remembering their names correctly and taking a picture with them when it was time for them to leave. This is not rocket science.
I’d like to believe Bill Clinton is a different person now than he was 20 years ago on this matter; I know I am. But I also know that, failed attempt to remove him from office that did him no lasting political damage to the side, he didn’t suffer any particular consequences for his actions. Maybe he’s just happy to have been president when he was.
As for GWB and Trump, well. Most Americans who voted in 2000 and 2016 picked someone else, as well they should have, because TweedleDubya and TweedleTrump are two of the worst presidents since the Civil War. Trump is easily the worst president since Buchanan, and GWB I’d slot in probably at number three (rounding out the top five: Harding, Nixon and A. Johnson). We got GWB and Trump because of white people, specifically white dudes, which strongly suggests that if we are going to go around making it difficult for anyone to vote (which, to be clear, we shouldn’t), we should probably focus on them, since when in doubt, white dudes in particular go for the stupidest, least qualified person possible for president. This isn’t opinion; this is their actual fucking track record.
Dubya shouldn’t have been president; Trump shouldn’t have gotten out of New Hampshire. And yet here we are, dealing with the residue of one and the staggeringly awful reality of the other. If you want to do the United States a solid, the next time there’s a presidential election, find out who the general mass of white dudes say they are voting for, and then vote for the other one. Even if you’re a white dude. Especially if you’re a white dude. History tells you that you probably can’t go wrong, voting against the favorite candidate of the average white dude.
(“Oh, like Gore or Hillary Clinton would have been better presidents!” Why, yes, they absolutely would have been, and the fact that you might think otherwise appalls me. Gore would not have been the greatest president our nation has ever had, but he would have been fine. Hillary Clinton could have been the second worst president in the post-Civil War history of our nation and she still would be better than the cloddish gallstone in human form currently infesting the White House. If Gore had been president we possibly wouldn’t have had the global collapse of the economy in 2008 (posssssibly); if Hillary Clinton were president now the worst thing that would be happening would be the 300th day of investigations into her fucking emails, which would have gone like every other investigation into her, i.e., nowhere.)
Let’s talk about Obama. Obama is, objectively, the best president of my lifetime — he managed to keep the economy from crashing after GWB’s lax policies nearly instigated Depression 2: The Depressioning, he managed to pass the ACA and aside from these and other policies I generally approve of, he was decent, kind, smart and scandal-free in a way that no other modern president has managed. Was he perfect? No — there are legitimate criticisms of him from both the left and the right, and for my money he stepped too lightly at times where he should have been stomping hard. Now, I understand why he did that — because the racist chucklefucks who comprise the GOP primary pool, already in high testeria about the idea that a black man had somehow become President, would possibly have shot up the entire nation — but I think he was overcautious. Be that as it may, when he came into office, we were on the precipice of global collapse. When he left, we were… emphatically not. Obama wasn’t perfect. But he was pretty darn good.
I’d like to think that Trump is an aberration, but let’s be honest with ourselves. The time where we could rely on the GOP to nominate and run competent people for president, for the time being at least, is in the rear view mirror. Barring removal from office — which would be fine with me but let’s be realistic — Trump will run again in 2020 (even if he is removed from office I could see him running again, which should scare the shit out of the GOP, as he currently has 90% approval with Republicans), and then after that who do they have? Ryan? Rubio? That shambling carpet of squamous cells known as Ted Cruz? Fucking Mike Pence, the human personification of an actual stick up one’s ass? John Kasich is out there but he’s as exciting to the GOP primary voters as a stick of unsalted butter. The host of GOP primary voters don’t want sensible; they don’t even want insensible if it comes in a pretending-to-be-sensible package. They want racism, women forced to give birth against their will, and to shove gay people back into the closet as deep as they can go, and they want it at full screaming volume. Trump isn’t an aberration; again, 90% approval rating. He is what the GOP is now.
(It is not what every Republican or conservative person is. Let’s be clear about that. But, news for non-horrible GOPers and conservatives: You’re so very outnumbered now, guys. And maybe that’s on you a bit. Please work on fixing that. The rest of us will thank you for it.)
I can’t say I wished we picked better presidents, since as a nation of individual voters, we did. I can say that I wish our system didn’t allow such terrible presidents to have gotten in. In the last twenty years, we’ve had a sexually harassing policy wonk, a genial imbecile, a malevolent imbecile, and Barack Obama. We could have potentially had a sexually harassing policy wonk, a colorless technocrat, a humorless policy wonk, and Barack Obama. How much better we all would have been if we had.