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A Short History of Presidential Bad Starts

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Six months have passed since that day in Washington DC which saw the largest audience ever to witness a presidential inauguration, period!  And in those six months, the Trump presidency has not been boring, in fact it has produced a soap opera of Dallas proportions, complete with back stabbing, daddy issues and tacky interior design.

The Trump presidency in six months has been the worst in U.S history but other presidents  also had bad starts, not on the same level as Trump but, near enough.

When John Quincy Adams became President in 1825 he did so under a cloud of controversy. His opponents claimed he won the election through corruption and in his first six months, and throughout his presidency, he was unable to shake off such a claim.

Adams could have glossed his dodgy election win by projecting a decent persona but he was , by all accounts, a presidential pain in the ass. He had no party loyalty and demanded those around him to pledge their unwavering devotion to him. This self absorbed attitude gained him little friends in Washington and he was an alienated individual who liked to bitch in his diary daily, which allowed him more than just 140 characters.

When Martin Van Buren took on the role of U.S President in 1837 his first six months proved to be an utter disaster. He hadn’t the key turned on the front door of the White House when the Panic of 37 set in. Cotton prices dropped dramatically, banks in New York closed and unemployment sky rocketed. Van Buren insisted on blaming foreign business  and he seemed wholly unable to make America’s economy great again.

William Henry Harrison had the most unfortunate of presidential beginings.  He didn’t even reach his first six months in the White House! During his inauguration in 1841 Harrison thought it would be a good idea to give a long rambling speech in the most awful weather without wearing a coat or hat. Harrison insisted that it would a project a strong looking President for the masses but, 30 days later he died of pneumonia.

Zachery Taylor was known as Old Rough and Ready but the former military man lacked political experience and it showed in his first six months on the job in 1849. Taylors first few months consisted of pronounced procrastination on picks for his cabinet. Old Rough and Ready quickly got tired of Washington and just months after his inauguration Taylor left the White House and went on a tour around the U.S hosting rallys.

The ultra opinionated John Tyler faced a threat of impeachment shortly after he moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 1841. Just weeks into his presidency the chauvinistic and vulgar mouthed Tyler demanded absolute loyalty from his cabinet and in return they promptly resigned, except for the secretary of state.

Tyler fell out with most of Washington, his own Whig Party even expelled him not long after he took the oath of office and was dubbed His Accidency. Congress tried to introduce a resolution to impeach Tyler because he was so incredibly at odds with the concept of checks and balances but, it was defeated.

When Franklin Pierce won the presidency in 1853 his wife’s first reaction was to faint in horror. She did not want to move to Washington, she probably would have preferred a tower in Manhatten! Pierce’s six months resulted in a chaotic cabinet, comings and goings, lack of communication but lots of disagreements, and while such chaos reigned in the early days of the Pierce White House it gave room for Southern succession to grow and thus lay the foundations of the civil war.

For Rutherford B Hayes, his first six months saw turmoil and dissatisfaction come from the streets. Hayes had lost the popular vote but still won the presidency and his unpopularity among the vast majority of people was displayed by the numerous strikes on the streets across the nation. The most notable of these strikes was the Great Railroad strike and it was one in which the President saw no problem using the militia to quell. This ruthless tactic only served to boost his unpopularity among the ordinary people.

In 1857 President Buchanan saw over an economic crises in his first six months in the White House. The Panic of 1857 resulted from bad trade agreements  and an economic depression set in across the United States. Meanwhile in the Supreme Court the Dred Scott decision took place. This entailed an African American slave sueing for his freedom but the court disgustingly declared that black people had no grounds to sue because they were not United States citizens. It was the court’s way of legitimising slavery and it had the full blessing of Buchanan who flippantly stated that the decision was of little importance but one which the supreme court could speedily settle. So much for the Declaration of Independence in which all men were created equally!

When Warren Harding was inaugurated in March 1921 he declared he was going on vacation to enjoy some golf and the work of filling cabinet positions and the general running of the country would not begin until December. When he finally got down to the business of being President one of his first acts was to oppose the League of Nations, preferring an American first policy rather than getting involved with peace building in a  post war world. When he did get around to filling cabinet positions, Harding did so with his business cronies which eventually led to that great bribery incident, the Tea Pot Dome Scandal.

After Harding’s death in 1923,  Calvin Coolidge took the reigns and in his first few months as President an immigrant act was introduce which was aimed at restricting immigration from south Europe such as Italy and eastern Europe. The immigration act also placed a complete ban on all Africans and Asians, especially  those from predominantly Muslim countries.

When Herbert Hoover came to power in 1929 those who elected him thought things couldn’t get any worse than the previous few Presidents but, Hoover was only a few months into his presidency when the economy started to decline dramatically.  The Hoover White House ignored all the warning signs and by October 1929 the Great Depression was in full swing.

When Harry Truman took over in the Oval office in 1945 he did so during the last days of WWII. His first few months were concerned with wrapping up the war and he did so by  using the most brutal of weapons, the atomic bomb. This mother and father of all bombs caused immense devastation but Truman’s decision to drop it made him an unlikely hero for the allies but as we look back now it was less than heroic.

By the end of his first six months, President Truman oversaw the begining of the red scare when the House of Unamerican activities was set up. It was a silly excercise in witch hunting where left wing idealists who were deemed unpatriotic were needlessly rooted out of American life.

In 1974 when Gerald Ford took over from ‘I’m not a crook’ Richard Nixon, one of his first acts was to pardon tricky dicky. It was a move which tarnished Fords first six months as President but now in the modern age of the White House the concept of a presidential pardon has reared its undignified head.

In one of his usual twitter rants, the current holder of the office insisted he had complete power to pardon, himself, his family and his associates. This desperate idea came from the investigations into Russian collusion which hangs a cloud of controversy over the Trump presidency since inauguration day six months the ago.

Yes, six months! That’s all it’s been and yet so much drama has been packed into that short time. Trump dropped the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan and slapped a ban on Muslims entering the country. Without consulting the Pentagon he decided to ban trans soldiers from serving in the armed forces even though they are citizens of the United States. The White House doors have been swinging off their hinges with the amount of hirings, fireings, comings and goings. The head of the FBI was kicked to the curb because he couldn’t pledge his utter allegiance to the President, while that same egomaniac pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement because, ya know, America first!

Six months has been a long time for many people to be stuck in a Trumpian nightmare and somehow he managed to spend a good chunk of those six months golfing in one of his many tacky resorts. Without doubt, history will not absolve the 45th president of the United States.

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Pauline Murphy is a freelance writer from Ireland. 

CounterPunch Magazine


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