America Has Never Had a Good President

Clint Smith analyzing America and its presidents

Every year on America’s “President’s Day,” I like to reflect on the different leaders the US has had. Of course, Hawaiians are not Americans, so I’m not as familiar with all of the former presidents as kids in the US are, but the handful that I know a lot about were not good people. In fact, even the most celebrated presidents of America were shitty men who have enacted terrible harm on people across the world. In order to truly analyze the leaders America has had, I annually watch Clint Smith’s (one of my most favorite poets, academics, and historians) “Letters to Five of the Presidents Who Owned Slaves While They Were in Office” on PBS— a spoken word piece addressing five of the “Founding Fathers” of what is now referred to as the United States of America. Even though I didn’t learn much about the country’s leaders, I know how they’re perpetually celebrated with some earning more praise than others. Presidents such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and even Barack Obama are mostly highly regarded for their so-called good deeds and transformative policies or actions. Because I’m a fan of remembering people as they truly were, not just as one-dimensional characters, I think it’s important to recognize that every American president, whether Democrat or Republican, has enacted terror and brutality upon marginalized people in both America and across the world. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slave-owning racists who colonized and bulldozed land that already belonged to Indigenous people. Abraham Lincoln, while an opponent of slavery, did not believe that African people should be regarded as equal citizens. JFK was a rich, racist elitist who participated in America’s military that actively engaged in violent colonization across the world. Barack Obama used drone strikes to murder brown and Black people in other countries and allowed the CIA to torture people. Aside from those five former presidents who are usually thought of in positive lights, the remainder of the previous leaders were even worse— violent racists, genocidal commanders, and people who fought against equity and justice for all people (all of which sum up the current monster in the White House). On today’s President’s Day, I hope everyone—especially those who would rather remember only the good parts of former leaders—accurately reflects on who has been given the reigns of a massive country and how we can fight for better leaders.