I recently shared an article featured on Politico about the idea that the most recent two presidents were perceived by those surveyed in a Quinnipiac poll to be the worst since World War II.
Though most surveyed likely wouldn’t remember what the presidency was like circa 1945, there is a question that can be raised. Why is it that the people most recently elected–the ones we chose a year, four years, eight years ago–are the ones we disdain the most? Public opinion polls say that we typically don’t approve of our Commander in Chief–whoever he or she may be–at the time of his or her presidency.
Perhaps there is first the notion of nostalgia, that we look back on our leaders with a level of respect seldom given until they leave office. It’s “the good old days” syndrome, similar to the way we lust after the roaring twenties or romanticize the fifties. Does anybody look back on influenza, racism, or World War II fondly? No, but we also don’t necessarily look back at the follies of former presidents so harshly as we do when they are in office.
Then maybe there is also the notion that the unpopular decisions made in office prove to be the right ones later on, and we can then forgive the presidents and move on. Truman was proven a much better president today than his contemporaries would have suggested. Perhaps future generations will look at George W. Bush or Barack Obama kindly in thirty, forty years. Perhaps not.
The overarching concern should be that we are never happy with our contemporary presidents–or our leadership in general. Though public opinion polls do not and cannot measure the worth of any president, justice, or congressperson, it certainly says something about democracy if we hate the decisions made today, respect the decisions made yesterday, and fear the decisions that will be made tomorrow.
Because that’s the thing: we ARE a democracy. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that we were a democracy until we fell prey to apathy and became victims of something eerily similar to oligarchy. But we still choose the leadership. Why not choose leaders who poll favorably because they have curried our favor? Call it crazy, but if we have bad leaders, aren’t we to blame?
Is it really the president who is the worst since WWII, or is it us? Being able to choose our government is as much a right in this country as breathing, eating, and sleeping. Why aren’t we fighting harder to preserve it?