Presidential ranking ignores damage done to many communities

In this Jan. 18, 2017, file photo, President Barack Obama speaks during his final presidential news conference in Washington. C-SPAN put Obama in at #12 in their presidential rankings.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Over the weekend, C-SPAN released its “Presidential Historian’s Survey 2017.” The survey was a ranked compilation of all 43 of the past serving presidents of the United States based on analysis from noted presidential historians. Presidents were graded on such topics as “international relations,” “crisis leadership,” “relations with Congress,” “pursued equal justice for all,” amongst others. Abraham Lincoln rounded out the list with the first spot while James Buchanan took spot number 43. Much of the list has not changed since its inception with the notable exceptions being George W. Bush entering the rankings in 2009 and Barack Obama entering this year. Obama took spot number 12, higher than both Bill Clinton’s and Bush’s entrances. More interesting than Obama’s entrance, however, is how well history has interpreted some of the controversies attached to presidents.

Looking at the rankings, many of the presidents we consider “great” make it into the top 20, the about half-way point. Franklin D. Roosevelt ranks as number 3, Ronald Reagan is number 9, Bill Clinton is 15 and Andrew Jackson somehow makes it in at number 18. Most people don’t like Jackson as he was a noted racist and was responsible for the mass relocation of tens of thousands Native Americans from their homes in order make way for settlers’ farms.

FDR, Reagan and Clinton all rank highly on the list even though they were also controversial presidents. FDR is well respected for pulling the United States out of the Great Depression and for successfully leading the country through most of World War II. Yet, FDR was also responsible for the mass internment of Japanese-American citizens, a move that is being used by the Trump administration to justify its potential monitoring of Muslim citizens. The move was one of the greatest attacks on American civil liberties in history. Reagan adamantly refused to help those affected by AIDs and HIV even as they were killing thousands of Americans. He allowed his Christian morals to keep him from actually helping out those in need. Clinton, while getting rid of the national debt, was responsible for the incarceration of tens of thousands of black and brown Americans and started the trend that led to laws directly attacking and singling out those communities.

Even recently “ex” President Obama was not as socially progressive as everyone makes him out to be. While he was the first African-American president and helped expand healthcare to everyone in the country, he also deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president in history. His deportation numbers have allowed the Trump administration to attempt to justify their own plans for mass deportations and immigration re-hauls.

The list seems to show that as history goes on, presidential mistakes and crisis seem to be lessened based on their other achievements. Obama, Clinton, FDR and Reagan all were responsible for horrible actions that failed many of the communities they were tasked to protect. The list masks their failures and makes their successes seem more important than their failures.

The list should be taken with many handfuls of salt. Obama has only been out of office for a month. There is no way to really tell how much of an impact his presidency had in the future for this country. Even Clinton and Reagan’s impacts cannot be fully judged without looking at how those presidencies hurt communities in the future. The communities that came under attack during their respective presidencies were severely damaged and have still not recovered.

Presidential evaluations change drastically as history goes on. But lists like this only serve to highlight the decisions people viewed as “good.” They ignore the future impact their presidencies have had, positive or negative, and allow Americans to continue leading a uninformed lives.


Amar Batra is a senior staff photographer and opinion’s staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email amar.batra@uconn.edu. He tweets at @amar_batra19.