When it comes to ranking presidents, three particular bunglers - James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, and Warren Harding – have, for as long as I can remember, been designated the worst men ever to have occupied the White House. Of course, now it’s time for those fellas to move over to make room for a loser whose iniquity makes them seem no worse than “slightly below average.”
Donald J. Trump, now well and truly impeached, will certainly occupy the very bottom of the presidential barrel for decades to come (See current presidential rankings here). His unique blend of incompetence and gross immorality is unlikely to be surpassed in my lifetime or, let’s hope, in the lifetimes of the next few generations.
Most observers have been categorizing Trump, along with Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, as one of three presidents to have been impeached. But I’m inclined to set him apart with a different group, a gang of political figures so thoroughly sleazy that they stand apart and unparalleled in American history. The members of this coterie are steeped in moral depravity to such an extent that, were you to be introduced to one of them, you might hesitate to shake his hand for fear of being contaminated with whatever vile and noxious substance made them who they are. I’m talking about Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, and Roy Cohn.
Senator Joe McCarthy (1908-1957) is famous for stirring up his base with outrageous lies about outsiders who, he claimed, were undermining America. His capacity to get people to believe things that are palpably false is eerily akin to a similar knack shared by the current Oval Office occupant.
Of course, McCarthy was brought down in a dramatic showdown with the Army (or what Trump would no doubt call the “Deep State”) and his political fortunes quickly faded - though his name lives on as a synonym for baseless fearmongering.
There’s a Spanish saying that goes something like this: “Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.” It means, roughly, “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.” If you believe in this sentiment (as I do), you will not be surprised to know that Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon were allies in the early 1950s. But Nixon is best remembered for his own political collapse in 1974 brought about by the Watergate scandal. (For a quick review of Watergate, see Dickgate.) Nixon is also well known for his post-presidential claim that, “If the president does it, it's not illegal.”
Senator McCarthy’s right-hand man was a notoriously corrupt and aggressive attorney named Roy Cohn. Attorney Cohn’s approach to life was guided by three rules: 1. Do whatever you can get away with to get what you want, 2. Viciously attack anyone who tries to stop you, and 3. Never apologize for anything. Sound familiar? It should, because Roy Cohn was a friend and influential mentor to a young Donald Trump.
Senator McCarthy and Roy Cohn
Donald Trump and Roy Cohn
This genealogy of immorality – McCarthy, Nixon, Cohn, Trump – seems like it could have been compiled by Ancestry.com.
But wait, there’s more. Among the astonishing array of Trump associates who have been tossed into the slammer over the past two years, is one Roger Stone, a dirty trickster famous for his belligerent, never-apologize manner. But he is even more famous for the Richard Nixon tattoo that adorns his back.
You think I’m kidding?
Roger Stone and His Tattoo
All I’m saying is this: when we think of Donald Trump, we shouldn’t think of him as noteworthy for being impeached; we should really remember him most for belonging to this uniquely squalid fraternity of politicians, what we might well call the McCarthy-Nixon-Cohn Brotherhood. Or, as my friend, Profesora Tomé, might say, “Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.”