Guest Column | Phillip Johnson

A presidential history lesson


With an election 18 months away, and the likelihood that it will be Biden vs. Trump a-g-a-i-n, my interest in the history of America’s presidents, inspired by a terrific high school history teacher, has re-kindled.

Our presidents are often historically presented as greater-than-life beings full of accomplishment and greatness; a kind of airbrushed version without the warts, scars and ugliness of real life. 

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are probably the two least liked assumptive candidates for President in recent history. Just as goes this 50/50 nation, at least half oppose each man. 

Trump’s accomplishments are overshadowed by his self-absorption and paranoia. He knew how to run a country; He just didn’t know how to manage himself. He oversaw economic growth, border control, energy independence, and really began to fulfill the promise of making America great again. He restored the sovereignty and respect of this country as the world’s Preeminent Power. Democrats impeached him twice.

Biden’s inability to break from the far left of his party has spiraled into an environmental, social and governance wokeness that is resulting in a weakening of our democracy. This destabilizing is evident in his White House and the monstrous bureaucracy managed by inept department secretaries struggling to control everything from climate to gender to capricious regulation. Wrap all that into a border crisis, inflationary economy and world leaders starting to kick sand in America’s face, and Biden may find himself rating worse than President Carter.

Although Trump and Biden both are aged, Biden’s age poses a prominent drawback as he publicly stumbles, both ambulatory and vocal. His handlers, similar to 2020, will most certainly find a way to keep him out of sight as 2024 approaches. There will be no debates or in-person interviews during the campaign. And of course, there’s Hunter, hanging around Joe’s neck like an albatross. If Republicans find definite proof of presidential money laundering involvement, Joe’s mincemeat. 

In the words of Bush, the elder, as the 1992 election returns were coming in, it would seem “we’re in deep doo-doo now.”

Trump and Biden may be seriously flawed but comparing them to other presidents helps soften their images. This is where history really matters; hiding, destroying, or otherwise denying it threatens our very reality.

Few realize twelve presidents owned slaves at some point in their lives. Eight owned slaves while president. Without naming each, George Washington was the first and Zachary Taylor the last to own slaves while president. Lincoln’s Vice-President Andrew Johnson and Ulysses Grant, commander of all Union Forces, owned slaves. Johnson actually convinced Lincoln to exempt Tennessee from the Jan. 1, 1863, Emancipation Proclamation. Johnson later in a speech where he deemed himself “Moses” freed Tennessean slaves on Oct. 24, 1864.

Abraham Lincoln, who is usually included in the top three presidents list, oversaw the killing of over 600,000 and maiming of 900,000 of America’s youngest and finest, according to American Battlefield Trust. To Lincoln, slavery was a secondary issue; He’s quoted saying, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it.” At the cost of 600,000 lives and the destruction of the South, and having been advised the country would heal if he would acquiesce and let time run its course, his Presidency could arguably place him in the bottom three.

Andrew Jackson was a great general and founder of the Democratic Party. To his discredit he personally oversaw the Trail of Tears; a sad episode in Native American history. He owned so many slaves that he faced criticism for being a slave trader. His first inaugural party in 1829 could have been mistaken for another date, Jan. 6, 2021; the White House and surrounding grounds were trashed by his revelers.

FDR whose leadership, along with Churchill and Stalin, resulted in the defeat of the Axis Powers in WWII is responsible for incarcerating 122,000 Japanese-Americans under his WWII Order 9066. In partnership with LBJ, FDR can arguably be blamed for our current entitlement mess. Initiating his pseudo-ponzi version of social security, rather than an individual savings program, has us facing its demise without modification. He also, like today’s democrats, wanted to stack the Supreme Court to his advantage. 

Lyndon Johnson basically oversaw the Vietnam War. Numbers are fluid but best estimates are that over 58,000 American soldiers were killed and 304,000 wounded. A portion of these casualties were outside Johnson’s term but most were on his list. LBJ and his generals figuratively tied one hand behind each soldier’s back and told them to defend the nation so his administration would not be the first to lose a war. He also contributed to our entitlement and welfare mess with his Great Society program which has been further exacerbated by Congress’ inept handling of these programs. We can rejoice that he chose not to run in 1968.

Richard Nixon. Watergate. Enough said.

Jimmy Carter, usually deemed the weakest President, maybe until now, was the “malaise” President who let the Iranians manipulate the last year of his presidency until Ronald Reagan defeated him and prompted the release of 52 hostages. 

Bill Clinton. Impeached.

George W. Bush, is credited with leading the country through the Sept. 11, 2001 World Tower conflagration with a resultant “War on Terror” in Afghanistan that was not ended until 2021 after 2,402 U.S. deaths through four presidents. Heeding bad intelligence, he ordered an attack on Iraq to destroy their “weapons of mass destruction.” None were found. In terms of U.S. loss over 4,400 soldiers died and almost 32,000 were wounded. 

Maybe our Trump-Biden conundrum is not H.W. Bush’s deep doo-doo after all; let’s hope it’s just mud.

Phillip Johnson held several financial executive positions during his career and prior to retiring served as CEO of Chatham County Group Homes. He also has had past involvement with the non-profits West Chatham Food Pantry and The Boys and Girls Club of Siler City.