[A]s we arrive at what seems likely to be the end of his presidency, it’s worth noting what our reaction to him reveals about our collective values and character–or lack thereof. Many libertarians, genuine conservatives, and leftists are convinced he is the worst president of our lifetime.
He is certainly the worst person to be president in a long time. But is he the worst president?
I worry here that people are so irked by his style–by his bombastic promises, but his higher-than-normal propensity to bullshit, by his lack of grace, by his inability to feign empathy the way normal politicians do when they seek the power they crave, by his apparent comfort with authoritarianism (which seems to come from thinking he should run a country like he runs his family businesses)–that they spend little time look at the substance of what he’s done.
So, a good starting exercise in evaluating his presidency would be to ask yourself what you would think of him if he didn’t have Twitter and never gave any public interviews. Imagine that instead you simply had to evaluate him on the basis of the policies he enacted or blocked. Imagine you had never heard him speak or read his tweets.
On that basis, even though he did bad things, he is not in any clear way the worst president of our lifetime …
Trump’s crude style–his nastiness and utter lack of statemanship–has clearly helped delegitimize the US, the US government, and the presidency. Foreigners’ approval ratings of the US declined and stayed down. European leaders say that they can no longer count on the US. Internal divisions and polarization grew stronger within the US. (That said, to some degree, this might not be Trump’s fault–it might be that we’re overreacting and acting like hooligan assholes. Trump derangement syndrome is a real cognitive failing on our part.)
Still, insofar as his rhetoric and style destabilizes American democracy or the world order, and insofar as it does so as a rational reaction to him rather than as a result of Trump derangement syndrome, then at some point, perhaps style becomes substance. In the abstract, we might say that even if President A passes better laws than President B, if A causes the country to collapse into civil war and B does not, then B is better than A. So, we understand that style can at some point become substantive.
Jason Brennan, When Does Style Become Substance?: On Evaluating the Trump Presidency (200-Proof Liberals)
Brennan’s last two paragraphs, and the absence of malice in the “whatabouts” I omitted (Bush II, Clinton, Reagan), are why I cannot take seriously any other candidate for “worst president of our lifetime.”