ForumTouchy Subjects ► WORST. PRESIDENT. EVER.
I think every American President in my lifetime has invaded, bombed or otherwise stuck their nose into other countries in ways I've disapproved of.
  
A lot of the time it's the lack of nuance and the surety of who the good guys were that I found objectionable and not necessarily the invasion itself.
  
The good guys are the people America likes. The bad guys are the people America doesn't like.
  
Democratic People's Republic of Best Korea are now officially good guys.
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Mmm, I think it's difficult to simply say the US shouldn't get involved in other countries. If the US does not cultivate influence abroad (whether that be peacefully or aggressively), then it's very likely countries like Russia or China will be the ones who step into power there. If we don't intervene, someone else WILL.

Once we're involved, I think we also have a responsibility to see it through, however long that takes.
  
I think this does pretty quickly devolve into a discussion of the criteria presidents should be judged by, although I'm not necessarily against that, because I think it's the more interesting discussion.

I think Zia's direct point about military interventions is a little underdeveloped (there are several other ways to "influence" countries which don't involve the military) but the core idea is sound, and has been referenced obliquely by other comments already: to what degree should we account for circumstances "forcing the hand" of various presidents? To Zia's point, for instance, the quality of any given decision should probably be at least partially judged by the presumed consequences of any alternatives. It's terrible to decide to invade Iraq, for instance, but given a choice between whether the US invades Iraq, or Russia is allowed to invade Iraq... which is more preferable? (Either to the American public, or the Iraqis?)

Two things about that though - it immediately allows for rampant "special pleading" by partisans of both sides, in which we argue that whatever unpopular / objectively bad decisions made by whatever presidents were still "good" decisions because the alternatives were much worse... and also it seems difficult to avoid concluding at some point that presidents are also justified in taking certain actions because they're politically expedient for them, regardless of their long term consequences - which just seems outside of the spirit of the debate, for some reason.

On a side point, it does make me think about the "alternatives" to things like NAFTA; specifically whether it's realistic to think that there *are* really alternatives. To me, even if you take critic's arguments at face value, globalization is the still the force driving the decline of the "working" class, and agreements like NAFTA are merely the structured recognition of the underlying reality. In other words, presidents don't get to choose whether globalization happens, all they get to decide is whether (and how) to participate in the international regulation of globalization.

Which just makes me want to rail at "the working class" for a little bit, because to me it seems abundantly obvious both that the existing "working class" is dead and trying to revive it is throwing good money (and other resources) after bad... and that the "working class" is primarily threatened by automation rather than globalization (although that's another force that presidents also pretty much have to take as a given.)

Which is... just frustrating, because from my perspective the "working class" is very effectively immolating itself (allowing itself to be immolated?) by voting for politicians who will oppose globalization, yet actively encourage automation. I mean, there are the arguments that individuals should sometimes set aside their individual interests and vote in the best interests of the entire country... but what's more frustrating to me than apparent selfish voting, is apparent *pointless* voting, where people vote against both their individual self interest and the broader interests of America as a whole. It really tests my faith in democracy as an institution. : (
  
Which just makes me want to rail at "the working class" for a little bit, because to me it seems abundantly obvious both that the existing "working class" is dead and trying to revive it is throwing good money (and other resources) after bad... and that the "working class" is primarily threatened by automation rather than globalization (although that's another force that presidents also pretty much have to take as a given.)

Which is... just frustrating, because from my perspective the "working class" is very effectively immolating itself (allowing itself to be immolated?) by voting for politicians who will oppose globalization, yet actively encourage automation.
Why are you putting working-class in scare-quotes, and which politicians oppose automation.
  
Globalisation does directly harm the working class: America isn't particularly affected because it's not nearly as globalised as Americans think. Major migration, foreign investment and consumer goods drive wages waaaaay down and the cost of home ownership up. Automation is big for America because it still has a resource/manufacturing sector thanks to subsidies and obvious protectionism, but for countries like the UK and New Zealand (where manufacturing basically died in the 70's-80's thanks to Thatcher and Roger Douglas respectively) these effects are really severely felt.
  
Millpond: I don't know that any of them do, but not all of them actively encourage it either. Predominantly it's the pro-business republicans who actively encourage it, and the very same are more likely to be the darlings of the "working class."

"Working Class" is in scare quotes because I think it's largely a misnomer at this point. I think the term is meant to emphasize that physical labor or "work" is also valuable to the economy, but again with automation that's less and less true. The people who are in the "working class" now are merely those who didn't make it into a higher class, and subsequently petition the state to ensure their welfare - and I speak about that as a someone who has never worked a salaried job, so I'm no, I'm not leaving myself out of that analysis.

Anyway, I think it would be better to say the Welfare Class, as that better describes their status in the economy, but obviously that's a huge PC violation in America today. People who "work" for their money don't want to be told that their work isn't actually necessary, and therefore not all that valuable. Therefore we have the curious task of disguising welfare enough that the welfare class can receive the benefits of it without thinking of themselves as welfare recipients fundamentally.

Ideally we'd educate people better, such that more people would have access to the higher social classes doing more of the necessary work these days... but that mirrors overall changes in social priorities that are being strongly resisted. A shift towards more individuality and free thought, for instance - hugely necessary for better functioning within a knowledge-based economy, but it's also freaking a lot of people out because they don't understand the differences between individuality and anarchy.

Greyseff: Globalization does directly harm the working class, but it's effects aren't as pronounced as people think. Globalization shifts manual labor from developed, to developing countries. It dilutes the necessary units of work across a larger number of workers, but it doesn't actually make any work unnecessary. That's a short term disruption that - all other things being equal - would eventually even out more or less, as developing countries catch up to developed nations, and acquire their own consumer economies seeking consumer goods from elsewhere. Then there would be a counter movement of more competition for knowledge sector jobs, and the ratio of knowledge jobs to physical jobs would stabilize overall, although obviously some countries might see a net shift one way or another.

Tl;dr though... globalization doesn't change what work needs doing, it just changes where it happens. Automation changes what work needs doing, and it the force that is eliminating the working class as a concept altogether.
  
Yikes.

working class ≠ welfare class

What the heck is this?
  
Great, so we've now acknowledged exactly what I said, that domestic wages vanish with globalisation until the developing world catches up. AKA the working class moves on to service industries which are paid poorly and tend to also be target industries for migrant workers/overseas expansion -- who accept lower wages -- and therefore globalisation does screw the "welfare class."

I literally see nothing in your post that refutes any of what I said other than that bit about how long term it all balances and we compete fairly "in the future." As far as the working poor are concerned, they probably won't see the future you're describing and you can't feed your kids on theories.
  
Personally, the service industry still counts as working class btw - even though it's not the "holy grail" that is manufacturing. (What is it that makes people prefer manufacturing work, even when all else is equal?)

I never said that globalization wasn't a problem for the working class... just that it wasn't the problem. Globalization means 1-2 generations of lean times, economically. Automation, in contrast, means that physical labor will never be economically viable ever again.

I kinda get the idea that people are worried about "feeding their kids" in the short term (although that really isn't as big a burden as people make it out to be, if you live in the developed world) but what I don't get is why no one's even aware of the long-term picture. It seems to me pretty fatalistic to pay attention to the short term exclusively, even if you're understandably more worried about what happens tomorrow rather than what happens in ten years.
  
Personally, the service industry still counts as working class btw - even though it's not the "holy grail" that is manufacturing. (What is it that makes people prefer manufacturing work, even when all else is equal?)

Yea, I didn't say it wasn't and meant service industries, not the service industry. Manufacturing means you provide tangible material goods, not customer reliant services that usually pay less and have far weaker unions

I never said that globalization wasn't a problem for the working class... just that it wasn't the problem. Globalization means 1-2 generations of lean times, economically. Automation, in contrast, means that physical labor will never be economically viable ever again.

Globalisation is a problem for the working class, it clearly and objectively is. I don't know what to tell you other than "1-2 generations of lean times" is not a good thing for the actual real people in the working class, that is a threat to the working class that exists now. Your argument isn't so much that this isn't a problem for the working class so much as it isn't a problem (it's actually extremely beneficial) for most of us, and the few who lose just don't matter in the scheme of things (which is historically the case too). "The working class" will still exist without manual labour, the people who currently comprise the working class are who I'm worried about.

I kinda get the idea that people are worried about "feeding their kids" in the short term (although that really isn't as big a burden as people make it out to be, if you live in the developed world) but what I don't get is why no one's even aware of the long-term picture.


You don't have kids do you? Most people really don't care about the big picture, just making sure their family is cared for and their kids have a better lives than them. Feeding your kids is not easy When house prices increase 85% in four years.


It seems to me pretty fatalistic to pay attention to the short term exclusively, even if you're understandably more worried about what happens tomorrow rather than what happens in ten years.

It's not just about the short term, I criticised the long term impact of Reagan's policies before the thread got massively derailed to talk about whether or not the working class should be called the welfare class despite The Total Dissolution of the welfare state.
  
Millpond: I don't know that any of them do, but not all of them actively encourage it either. Predominantly it's the pro-business republicans who actively encourage it, and the very same are more likely to be the darlings of the "working class."
Working-class people are threatened by globalisation, immigration and automation. Which politicians should we vote for.
  
Immigrants are almost always working class people.
  
Working-class people already there are threatened by immigration.
  
We met to stop dividing the working class with nonsense like that.
  
If you think division into countries is problematic, then your whole thread is problematic because you started a thread about Presidents, and seemingly only US Presidents. Your own thread has divided the working class because you've singled out the US electoral system, therefore US voters, therefore the US working-class. Maybe you should have started a thread about "Worst Head of Government of Any Country" to be more inclusive.

The context is working-class people in a certain country [the US] voting about things they are threatened by. People not already in [the US] obviously aren't voting in [the US], so are irrelevant to the discussion. Working-class people in [the US] are threatened by immigration into [the US]. Saying most immigrants are working-class only proves that point.
  
Working class people in the US are not threatened by immigrants, they are threatened by ruling class Americans.
  
I don't think owning slaves during a time when most wealthy, land-owning Americans owned slaves has much bearing on how good a president a person was or even how good a person he was.
This is like kindergarten level morality. Just because other people were doing it doesn't make it right. It's one thing to argue to that we shouldn't consider a president's personal life in our evaluation of them, but to say owning another human being doesn't make you a bad person?
Jimmy Carter so would-be up there sold the Panama(?) Canal for beans and had drugs shipped in from Mexico
This is fuckin wild. We've got at least a dozen slaveowners, genocidal maniacs, torture, coups, countless wars, and what really gets you incensed is returning land to the country it's situated in, which was strong-armed into selling it to the US "for beans" in the first place anyway? I straight up can't even find anything about whatever "drugs from Mexico" incident you're referring to so if anyone wants to point me in the right direction be my guest.

@millpond
It seems like you're assuming presidents should only be judged by their effects on the voting population. This seems like a bad criterion—for one thing, quite a few important moments in US politics involve the belated enfranchisement of various groups.


Automation is not a bad thing. Automation allows us to do more for less work. The problem is the people hoarding the benefits of increased productivity, not the technology that allows it.

Finally, to get back on topic: Reagan is probably not the worst presidents because all the presidents are so very very bad, but I have a special hate for him based on the especially high gap between what a monster he was and the respect people give him. Plus he's at least emblematic of, and in large part responsible for, a lot of what's wrong with the US over the past several decades.
If we narrow the pool to presidents I probably would've voted for in the general election, Bill Clinton probably comes up near the top for basically the same reasons.
  
It's really not kindergarten level of morality to acknowledge that maybe just maybe history isn't that clear cut. I mean, if we're talking strictly about the worst presidents based exclusively on modern morals then yes, you are 100% correct that the worst presidents would be almost exclusively from before Lincoln and almost everyone after him on the basis of their ownership of/racism toward black people alone.

It makes the thread pretty boring though since assuming people have knowledge and values that they just objectively had never been exposed to means we can literally only judge presidents from our time favourably, and even then barely.
  
Twelve U.S. Presidents owned at least one slave during their lifetime. Even within that, we can compare morality. Ulysses Simpson Grant owned one slave in the 1850s and was financially strapped, but freed his slave rather than sell him. Compare that to Andrew Jackson who had nearly 200 slaves who he did not free in his will, as George Washington had famously done. Compare that with Thomas Jefferson, who as a statesman was vehemently opposed to the institution of slavery, but who himself kept over 600 enslaved human beings. Jefferson is often judged most harshly because the had the most slaves, but he had inherited almost all of them, and struggled with what to do about it his whole life. He famously sold off a lot of books and possessions to prevent personal financial ruin, but wouldn't sell his slaves because, at least according to his own opinion, they would be treated much worse on nearly any plantation. But he also wouldn't free them. So yeah, shades of morality, even among slave holders.
  
Grayseff said:
It makes the thread pretty boring though since assuming people have knowledge and values that they just objectively had never been exposed to means we can literally only judge presidents from our time favourably, and even then barely.
I mean, hot take, we can't judge any presidents favorably; they're all monsters in some way. Some of them are very obviously worse than others and a small number may have even done more good than bad, but you can't cancel out atrocities with good deeds. I think if we want to judge them against each other as presidents, yeah it's fair to consider the politics of the time and what was viable or even knowable. What I specifically took issue with is the suggestion that slavery is essentially amoral if it's common practice:
I don't think owning slaves during a time when most wealthy, land-owning Americans owned slaves has much bearing on how good a president a person was or even how good a person he was.
The choice to engage or not engage in the practice of owning a human being is absolutely a moral one and affects if you're a good person, regardless of the times.

Finally, abolitionism predates the US. It was a hot button issue in writing the constitution, not some mysterious future concept that no president before Lincoln was exposed to or could possibly conceive of.
  
Essentially, if we are evaluating people in relative terms, then slaveholders were not automatically especially bad. If we're evaluating people in absolute terms, then absolutely every human being in history except Jesus Christ is despicable, so this whole debate is largely pointless.

I'm not saying slavery was amoral, but I do claim that it's possible for a person of high personal moral virtue to have been a slaveholder in 18th century America, simply because that was the default attitude, with abolitionism being an unusually progressive stance. That doesn't absolve slaveholders of the act of slavery, but I do think it extenuates it. If we are attempting to evaluate a person's relative moral virtue, cultural context - how that person compared to his society - is relevant.

The popular moral wisdom today is that people who think homosexuality is a disgusting sexual perversion are horrible bigots, yet that was the overwhelming popular attitude towards homosexuality mere decades ago. Is it fair to say that virtually everyone in western society in the mid 20th century and prior was a terrible person? I don't think so.

One last thought: I think personal moral virtue is only one component of how good a president someone is - and not even the most important component, from a historical perspective.
  
Essentially, if we are evaluating people in relative terms, then slaveholders were not automatically especially bad. If we're evaluating people in absolute terms, then absolutely every human being in history except Jesus Christ is despicable, so this whole debate is largely pointless.


No, that's just Mal's thing. As per Scoggle's comment, it's still possible to judge different presidents as better or worse relative to an absolute standard, even if you have to dig into the details to do so. Or, in other words, not all slave owners were equally bad, even if you argue that all (or nearly all) non-slave owners were better than slave owners. (I mean, pretty sure the zodiac killer didn't own slaves, but...)

I'm not saying slavery was amoral, but I do claim that it's possible for a person of high personal moral virtue to have been a slaveholder in 18th century America, simply because that was the default attitude, with abolitionism being an unusually progressive stance. That doesn't absolve slaveholders of the act of slavery, but I do think it extenuates it. If we are attempting to evaluate a person's relative moral virtue, cultural context - how that person compared to his society - is relevant.


Yes, absolutely. To really give this viewpoint a rigorous scholarly treatment would take more effort than I suspect most people here are interested in, but the basic point is that human beings are social creatures whose legacy can't be fairly judged when separated from their cultural context. If you replicated George Washignton's life as closely as possible in all other aspects besides cultural context, it's probably fair to say that in today's context, he wouldn't be a slave owner. Would that make the hypothetical 21st century Washington more personally moral, or are both Washingtons simply unable to diverge that significantly from the morality of whatever culture they are placed in?
  
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