seal-president-of-the-united-states-1163420_1280               Let’s suppose that Donald J. Trump, against the odds, becomes the next president of the United States.  He will not be the first businessman to arrive at the White House. Nor will he be the first to be totally out of his league.  Let me say at the outset, the United States of America will survive.  We have found ourselves under the leadership of incompetents in desperate times, and we have always made it through.  We are a nation of survivors!  With a nod to Dickens, interestingly, our “worst of times” are often followed by our “best of times.”A little history can help us better understand.

                In one of the most critical periods in our nation’s history, the years immediately preceding the Civil War (War Between the States) three of the most incompetent presidents, men who hadn’t the slightest notion of what to do to save the Union, were presidents of the United States–Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan.  Millard Fillmore (who?) filled the remainder of Zachary Taylor’s term.  Taylor, I must add, was equally incompetent! Fillmore was the last president not to be affiliated with either the Democrats or the Republicans, and he is undoubtedly the least remembered of the presidents.

                Franklin Pierce was a playboy and an alcoholic whose tragic life was encumbered with a miserable marriage and a political philosophy that was almost totally out-of-step with the times.  James Buchanan was a strange, complicated socialite with a shaded reputation (in Washington, D.C.) who had the dubious distinction of watching the nation fall apart without the slightest idea what to do about it.

               abraham-lincoln-60558_1280                 Along came Abraham Lincoln! And the Civil War. Followed by two other failures–Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant.

                But, we’ve had seriously flawed presidents in the modern era. Perhaps the worst was Warren G. Harding. He was the Ohio newspaper (business) man who followed Woodrow Wilson.  He looked like a president; he sounded somewhat like a solid, intelligent man, but he was a disaster in the White House.  His flaws would fill a book, and his lack of interest in his position lead to a corrupt administration that included leasing public lands for private gain. A gambler, tippler, and womanizer, Harding once gambled away a set of White House china!  His administration was cut short when he suddenly died in San Francisco, California following a presidential trip, for no apparent, good reason, to Alaska. He was popular with the people, but rumors were circulated that his wife had poisoned him to save his reputation, as some of the scandals of his administration were about to be exposed. He probably was not poisoned by his wife, but interestingly, Florence Kling Harding refused to allow an autopsy on the dead president.

                Harding was followed by Calvin Coolidge.  What can be said of “Silent Cal?” Not much. Equally incompetent; at best a reasonably successful local politician, Coolidge was neither prepared for the White House nor able to do anything substantial to enhance the office or overcome the entrenched bureaucracy.  Coolidge was essentially disempowered by depression when one of his sons died of blood poisoning in the White House.  It was the jazz age, the flapper era–a time when not much was to be done and nobody seemed to foresee the great depression looming.

                If Harding and Coolidge in succession were not enough, along came Herbert Hoover! Hoover, too, was an extremely wealthy businessman.  He acquired his fortune as an overseas mining engineer. No one could ever fault his good intentions, but he seemed absolutely powerless to deal with what was happening to the common man.  The Great Depression completely undid Hoover’s administration.  As a matter of fact, shacks housing the poorest, out-of-work and starving Americans were called “Hoovervilles.”

                Along came Franklin D. Roosevelt!  And World War II.patriotic-1345268_1280

                All of the aforementioned, less-than-stellar presidents were one-termers or less with the exception of Calvin Coolidge.

                I am not going to get into the politics of these presidents, except to say that most of them, including Abraham Lincoln, were Republicans.  Reason?  Because the Republicans of yesteryear bear little resemblance to today’s Republicans. We did reasonably well, until along came the latest disaster…George W. Bush.

                Since most readers should remember the George W. Bush years, I won’t take much space to go into detail.  I will simply refer to 9-11, a disastrous foray into Iraq that totally unsettled the Middle East, and a severe economic crisis that nearly pushed the nation into a second great depression.  Bush, like so many of the other failures, was a wealthy businessman (owner of a baseball team) and a not-so-accomplished governor (Texas) before going to the Oval Office, where he was a disaster!

                Along came Barack Obama.  You be the judge!

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

                All too often, history repeats itself because “those who cannot remember the past, as George Santayana said, “are condemned to repeat it.”  

L. Milton ("Milt") Hankins is an author, columnist and editor who lives in Ashland, Kentucky. He is a life-long student of the American presidency. His book manuscript "Our Unusual Presidents and Their Families" provides source material for part of this article.