Bad Presidents’ Club

It looks like it’s down to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as the next president of what used to be described with a straight face as the greatest country on earth, not the greatest show on earth.

Republicans have now begun to characterize Trump the same way as the looniest of the left-wingers do. In full panic mode, they are calling him a bigoted, ignorant, barbarian. Well, yes, and it’s a little late to be noticing. He’s at the gates.

The unanswered question, of course, is whether he is going to turn out to be Goldwater, driving the party bus off the cliff to a crushing defeat, maybe even losing it the Senate and the House in the process. Or turn out to be Reagan, inventing a new coalition and revealing himself to be not merely a has-been entertainment buffoon, or at least proving that entertainment buffoons can be potent vote-getters. Problem is, Goldwater and Reagan were at least Republicans. What if Trump turns out to be a Manchurian Candidate, a Democrat in populist clothing? Or, even worse, what if he’s more like the man he’s been quoting, Mussolini?

All of a sudden, after Super Tuesday, the panic has also begun to infect the Democrats who, until recently were enjoying the spectacle of the Republicans trying to corral the bull in their china shop. Their once patrician party made a Faustian bargain to get to 50 percent by embracing evangelicals, blue-collar, hard-hat ex-Democrats, the Joe the Plumber, Archie Bunker crowd, and the Tea Party. And now the unwashed people at the kid’s table appear poised to take over the party, lock, stock and two smoking barrels. Say Amen, brother, or else. Ha ha.

But now, it has dawned on Democrats that this baboon may not just threaten the Republican Party. What if he could actually win not just the nomination, but the presidential race? Trump is meaner than Hillary, better on TV than Hillary, more able to whip voters into a frenzy that Hillary, and may even play better with some traditional Democratic constituencies than Hillary. What if, some have begun to whisper, he could win labor union votes. They hate trade with China and Mexico. They are all for keeping Muslim and Latinos out, torturing terrorists and killing their families. They like guns. And Trump is a switch-hitter as well. He will obviously attack Hillary for all the things any Republican candidate would – Benghazi, emails. But Trump will also attack her for the same things as Bernie Sanders – she was for the war in Iraq, she’s in the pocket of Wall Street.

OMG, both parties have begun to scream, King Tweet is going to be president! It’s the last stage in the decline of the West. It’s the end of civilization as we know it. What’s next, Kanye for Veep? Start packing, Martha, we’re moving to Vancouver like the Chinese billionaires worried about crazy Xi Jinping.

Well, yes. It does look bad, but it isn’t like it hasn’t happened before. School days history does us a disservice by making us expect all our presidents are going to be worthy of Rushmore. But the past wasn’t all Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, FDR, Truman, Ike. No, for each such peak there are extended troughs of bumbling incompetence, venality and bizarre behavior.

One reason Lincoln looks like Everest is the presidential Marianas Trenches leading up to him that failed to avert the Civil War and following him that scuttled the promise of Reconstruction and ushered in the wretched excess of the Gilded Age. What a rogue’s gallery. John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford Hayes, Chester Arthur. It’s amazing we survived at all.

There was also the unfortunate run of post-stroke Wilson, Warren Harding, Silent Cal and Hoover. And in our own time there are plenty of losers for Trump to emulate. Bob Dole, at a gathering of ex-presidents for a funeral, looked at Ford, Carter and Nixon and muttered, “Look, hear no evil, see no evil, and evil.”

And let us not forget George W. Bush, clearly in the running for bottom decile of the presidential rankings. Maybe the fault is not in our stars but in ourselves. Maybe the education system that both parties refuse to fix creates an electorate capable of being taken in by these charlatans. Maybe we should teach our children to quit voting based on who they’d like to have a beer with, and to try voting for character — prudence, shrewdness, humility, decency, knowledge and sanity. If not, President Drumpf it is. God help us, and God help the United States of America.

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