Hey, Jim Buchanan - You Can Come Out Now

Guest Opinion Piece by Donald L. Sheppard

Until recently, you could find consensus among members of both political parties by asking a simple question: 

Who was the worst President in U.S. history?

The answer was predictable: James Buchanan.

Historians supply a number of reasons for labelling Buchanan this way. He had lousy leadership talents, lacked moral authority, stubbornly refused to compromise on any of his decisions, and claimed Congress had no power to abolish slavery or act against would-be seceding states who followed that odious practice. In the eyes of some historians, Buchanan’s actions betrayed the national trust so deeply that he came closer than any other president in American history to committing treason. 

I suggest it’s time to give the guy a break. James Buchanan may have been no Abraham Lincoln. But he was no Donald Trump either.

Trump’s supporters will leap to the current president’s defense by pointing out that he cannot be judged because his term is not yet over. Really? That’s like watching the New York Yankees lead the Podunk Pirates 15 to 0 in the second inning and hanging around for the rest of the game to see who wins. Later innings may be entertaining, but would you really expect the final score to be close? 

I cannot conceive of any future action by the current U.S. president that would cancel his embarrassing missteps, diplomatic disasters, cruel alienation, misogynist conduct and general malfeasance to this point. His behavior alone qualifies him as a permanent stand-in for Buchanan.

Hey, don't take my word for it. If you can’t believe me, listen to George Washington who dictated, during his early days in office, that the president of the U.S.A. must not “demean himself in his public character” and should act “in such a manner as to maintain the dignity of office.”

“Public character”? “Dignity of office”? When have these phrases been associated Donald Trump?

Without standing in George’s shoes, I would add that the prime task of an American president includes uniting the country in a great common purpose. We’ve seen little of that to this point. Instead we grow more and more aware of at least hints of scandal and corruption in the U.S. president’s personal, financial and political affairs. And what would Washington think of that? Can’t you imagine our Very First President shaking his wigged head and sagely observing, “They are iniquities best avoided at all costs”?

None of this has anything to do with the original intent of Trump’s supporters. They turned to him in 2016 because he appeared to express anger – which he does very well – and possess solutions to their concerns, which he appears to lack enormously.

Earlier I referred to the Yankees baseball team. No one familiar with the greatest days of that ball club can think of the team without hearing the brilliantly awkward declaration of Yogi Berra that “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

I’m not sure Yogi was entirely right about that. Not where Donald Trump is concerned.

As I write this, his first (sic) term has not yet ended. But even if, in a turnaround of Biblical proportions, Donald Trump were to reshape his presidency with honesty and humility while delivering the solutions and benefits that his supporters were striving for, the damage has been done. Trump has set a pattern for America that suggests bluster is preferable to consultation, wealth outranks self-worth, boasting is more attractive than modesty, and schoolyard bullying is more admirable than public service.

We’re not going to escape this new pattern in future elections. If the formula worked for an otherwise poorly-qualified presidential candidate, shall we expect others to follow in those same jackboot steps? Will the sky grow dark tonight?

You may find the prospect of Trump’s vacuous and indecent style becoming the new norm as depressing and alarming as I do. As a Reagan-inspired lifelong Republican, I am committed to doing whatever is within my power to avoid it. I suspect it will be a long haul, with many ditches to cross and, dare I say, swamps to drain. I pray a majority of open-eyed citizens will share my resolve where Donald Trump is concerned.

And if you happen to meet James Buchanan or any of his descendants, give them a word of good cheer.

With no indication that Trump will, or is even equipped, to change his behavior, ol’ Jim is poised to climb out of the Loser’s Cellar.

Donald Sheppard, a retired entrepreneur and business executive, is the author of The Dividends of Decency: How Values-Based Leadership Will Help Business Flourish in Trump’s America.

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Published on

June 27, 2018

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Donald L. Sheppard

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