President #16, the Great Emancipator, was openly racist, supported forced colonization, blamed black people's presence for the war (and told them that directly), and fought a war for years before self-emancipating blacks and slagging northern support for war led him to declare the cause to be freedom. Kimberley also denounces Lincoln for proposing compensated emancipation, though how that could have been worse than continuing the war she doesn't explain.
With Andrew Johnson (#17) it was right back to a president who had owned slaves, as had #18 Ulysses S. Grant. Johnson did so much to deny freedom to black people that Congress impeached him (though the ground for impeachment was the firing of the Secretary of War). Grant oversaw and tolerated a rise in racism, segregation, and terrorism. Rutherford B. Hayes (#19) was actually selected (not elected) as part of a deal to end Reconstruction.
There followed numerous racist, pro-colonization, and pro-white presidents. One of the nastiest was that hero of popular culture, Teddy Roosevelt. Another was that beta version of Barack Obama, Woodrow Wilson, a horribly racist, oligarchic, warmonger, raised by parents who had owned slaves, who has gone down in history as a liberal spreader of democracy.
Then came three racist Republican opponents of black rights, each chronicled by Kimberley.
Franklin Roosevelt (#32) rejected a proposal to consider the case of a black man accused of murder in Virginia, by telling the U.S. Attorney General, "I warned you not to call me again about any of Eleanor's niggers. Call me one more time and you are fired." FDR successfully advocated for legislation like the Social Security Act that excluded agriculture and domestic work and therefore most black people.
Harry Truman (#33) was openly racist and had been a member of the KKK, but was moved by public pressure to take steps such as desegregating the military. Former president Truman in 1960 remarked that if civil rights advocates staged a sit-in in a store he owned, he'd throw them out. Kimberley discusses a trend in her accounts of numerous presidents, of liberals and black people giving enormous credit to presidents for occasional crumbs tossed their way. She quotes Truman's special assistant on civil rights recounting a large crowd praying prior to a speech by Truman. "They thought it was a religious occasion."
Eisenhower (#34) was no hero, generally dragging his feat on civil rights. But taking action (even if it was with the National Guard) to protect students integrating a school seems like a positive thing, whereas Kimberley writes that he only did so because the Governor of Arkansas refused to allow black students to attend the school. Why else would he possibly have done so? One good act, of course, does not outweigh numerous bad ones.
A pattern of giving Democratic presidents dramatically too much credit is well documented through the remaining presidents in the list. LBJ did what activists compelled him to do (though he gave up his career rather than do what peace activists sought to compel him to do). Nixon re-normalized racism and promoted numerous harmful policies, including one that Kimberley might have added to her account: the "war" on drugs. Ford opposed busing, refused to send troops as Eisenhower had, and backed segregated private schools.
Jimmy Carter campaigned for president, saying, "I see nothing wrong with ethnic purity being maintained. I would not force racial integration of a neighborhood by government action." Ronald Reagan pursued the re-legalization of segregation. Bill Clinton made sure more black people went to prison and fewer received welfare benefits. Barack Obama's policies hurt black people, but his blackness gave him protection from any public activism.
Should anyone be added to this rogues' gallery in the future? Well, no person should ever be given the sort of beyond-royal power that U.S. presidents are given. That Trump has been impeached, even for a bizarre and warmongering reason while dozens of critical reasons stare us in the face, is a good thing in the same way that the U.S. media finally calling an acting president a liar and a scoundrel (except when he's bombing people) is a good thing. The office of the presidency needs to be brought down to size. It seems destined to hold in the future the worst representatives of U.S. society that can be found.
Yet, we also have to try to fill that office, as long as it exists, with the least awful person we can manage. It must be noted that one of the leading candidates in the polls for this year's election is a far-from-perfect individual (aren't we all?) who nonetheless stands head and shoulders above the entire crowd of 45 thus far (no matter what kind of hat Lincoln wears). I mean, of course, Bernie Sanders. If he were elected, as a president with the updated and developed domestic policies of FDR, but without the lust for another World War, and without the bigotry that has dominated the White House for centuries, would he scale back presidential power? Would we want him to? Would he pursue what he promised to pursue? Would he succeed? Let's find out.
(Article changed on January 10, 2020 at 01:11)
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