I’ve written here and there that we need to rediscover America and get to know our history better. Teachers need to return to teaching history without the woke Marxist critical theory lens, and just teach facts and stories. We need to know what people of the past did, and why, and in what context. What were their times like, and what did they think?
Robert Spencer, PJM contributor, longtime director of Jihad Watch, and author of numerous bestselling books about Islam and jihad, is back with his latest. This time he has gone in a different direction with the provocatively-titled Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster.
Spencer’s book is a work in rediscovering history. It asks a simple question: How can we know who was a great president and who wasn’t? Noting that historians tend to rate the same handful of presidents as great, and those historians tend to favor big government and presidents who made it bigger, Spencer judges the presidents of the United States by different criteria: Which ones were most successful at putting Americans’ interests first? Which ones most successfully upheld the Constitution? Which American presidents were best for Americans? That’s all supposed to be in the job description. So why don’t historians rate presidents along these lines?
It’s clear from Rating America’s Presidents that America has had more than a few presidents who thought they were the chief executives of the world more than they were the chief executives of the United States, and the American people suffered for it. Spencer has nothing but harsh words for the likes of Woodrow Wilson and the progressive internationalists who came after him. Historians tend to rate Wilson highly and overlook his blatant racism. They tend to rate him highly despite his disdain for the Constitution.
Spencer shows that Wilson doesn’t deserve accolades. Wilson’s famous declaration that the U.S. was going to “make the world safe for democracy” comes in for particular criticism, as Spencer shows how it led to numerous overseas adventures, including George W. Bush’s forays into Iraq and Afghanistan, which neither made the countries involved safe for democracy nor made Americans themselves either safer or more prosperous.
This is not to say that Spencer is either an isolationist or a pacifist. If you’ve read his work, you know this. He’s a patriot. He does require of America’s wars, however, that they are fought for a legitimate pretext, which in his opinion rules out the Mexican War and others. Spencer notes that opposition to the Mexican War was enunciated at the time by latter wartime leaders Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. History is almost never as simple as we think, and it’s certainly more complex than critical theory supposes.
Spencer acknowledges that it may have been America’s destiny to acquire California and the other Western states, and that wars of conquest are a constant of human history for which the United States should be criticized no more or less than any other nation in the world that has ever won one. But could those states have been acquired in a way that would not have led to the lingering resentment that is, goaded by La Raza and allied far-left groups, starting to boil over again in this age of victimhood hysteria, obsession with America’s alleged evils, and racial polarization?
We will never know. But the questions Spencer raises make you think.
The greatest value of Rating America’s Presidents is how it traces the genesis and development of some contemporary controversies that are tearing through the nation today. Trump is by no means the first president to face down a sinister, unelected, and unaccountable oligarchy of officials who overrode the will of the people in pursuit of their own benefit.
The first president to do this, in fact, was one Trump admires, to the sneers (of course) of the elites: Andrew Jackson. The controversy over tariffs, the struggle for civil rights, questions regarding immigration, and many other issues that dominate the public discourse today have been recurring themes throughout American history. Spencer doesn’t just show that, however; he traces the consequences of when one course of action was followed, as opposed to what happened when the opposing party took power.
Rating America’s Presidents concludes with something like a crescendo. Spencer demonstrates definitively that Donald Trump has implemented policies that have resulted throughout American history in a stronger, safer, more prosperous America, while the string of internationalists he succeeded showered U.S. taxpayer money on other countries while Americans slid toward the poverty line.
This is the history we need, history written with an unabashed love for the greatest nation the world has ever known. For too long now history has been the playground of far-left anti-American activists who have, by teaching our young people to hate America, sown the seeds of our present strife and future destruction. Rating America’s Presidents offers some much-needed pushback at the right time.
Bryan Preston is the author of Hubble’s Revelations: The Amazing Time Machine and Its Most Important Discoveries. He’s a writer, producer, veteran, author, and Texan.