My paternal grandfather, also called Robert Harrington, was born on this day in 1910. He derived impish delight from pointing out that his birthday was 10/10/10. He rose to the rank of captain in the United States Army but chose to be buried under his World War II commission of first lieutenant. He was, you might say, a perfect 10. We shared, among other things, an admiration for Abraham Lincoln.
My grandfather thought Lincoln was our greatest president and I joined him in that appraisal. Lincoln was a humble but subtle man who kept his considerable talents hidden. He was frequently underestimated by lesser men to their later shock and dismay. He was also courageous in ways that belied his meek and agreeable exterior, using the inherent powers of the presidency and the exigency of wartime necessity to suspend habeas corpus and jail dissenting newspaper editors and others. He saw clearly that there were higher authorities even than the Constitution. He did what he had to do to save the Union.
But Lincoln also evolved while he was President. He came to understand that the principle issue at hand wasn’t merely the salvation of the Union but the greatest of all evils, human slavery. He shepherded the 13th amendment of the Constitution to congressional triumph. He did not live to see it ratified by the states in late 1865 after his murder.
Many historians agree with us. With some historians Lincoln, too, was a perfect 10. He is frequently rated by them as the greatest American President, often in, to me, bafflingly near competition with George Washington.
Then there’s the other end of the scale. For some reason, according to the Siena College Research Institute Presidential Expert Poll, historians rank Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson as worse presidents than Donald Trump. The once-impeached, one term Johnson ranks 44th in six categories while the twice-impeached, one term Trump ranks 44th in only five. (Recall that, as I write this, there have only been 45 presidents. Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th president. Joe Biden has not yet earned a ranking because he’s still President.)
I realise these categories are dry statistical matters that cannot always be disputed, and rating presidents can sometimes be a dark art at best. But it’s final proof that a human being is often greater — and sometimes lesser — than the sum of their parts. Like IQ score, dry metrics fail to give us a perfect summary of a human being,
In Trump’s case there is simply no one to compare him with in his staggering awfulness. As president he was nothing short of an unqualified disaster, and he could even one day prove to have been the root cause of the destruction of American democracy. He is as great a disaster to America’s political landscape as was the American civil war, the war that Lincoln so capably and victoriously fought and successfully concluded.
No other American president has been as destructive as Trump. No other American president can approach Trump in his personal horridness. Rapist, murderer, traitor, bigot, narcissist, embezzler, thief, liar, money launderer, tax cheat, draft dodger, coward, tantrum-thrower, backstabber, weak, undisciplined, lazy and stupid, there are no epithets in the human language that Trump can successfully escape.
In his horribleness Donald Trump compares with no one. In measuring him against other presidents he stands utterly alone. If there were a competition for the worst of all human qualities, Donald John Trump has no rival. In the annals of awful Donald Trump is and remains a perfect 10. I think my grandfather, had he lived to see this day, would have wholeheartedly agreed. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.