It should be a given that a president unites more than he or she divides. That’s a good sign of a president, or, at least, it should be. With our most current Administration, the motto of Make America Great Again, would seem to tackle that very issue and wrap it up in a cute little bow. Making America great, suggests that all of America will become great, doesn’t it? So, it makes sense that’s what’s in the interest of the minorities and the majority is key for unity.

You may (or may not) be wondering why this is another article about race. Well, to deny that nearly everything is based on that fact, is naive. From the way we spend money, to the way we communicate, to the sheer numbers of diversity in America, there is little you can do to escape that fact. Pretend like you’re “color-blind” if you want to…it doesn’t change the fact that the first thing you notice about a person is their skin, and probably some sort of stereotype, or cultural norm, attached to it. We are not such unique creatures in America that we don’t practice the concept of “the other.” People fear or distrust what they don’t understand. Most of the time, people don’t understand other people who don’t look like them. But something sinister happens when the leader of a nation shares what they deem the “values” of a country, yet those values are inherently racist and intentionally exclude. Case in point:

American presidents, racially divisive presidents, bad presidents, black excellence#5. Abraham Lincoln:

Yup. The Great Emancipator himself. He has to be on this list because of his hypocrisy. Lincoln once said, “there is a physical difference between the white and black races that will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality.” So, not all men are created equal, like it says in the Declaration—you know, the text he so famously quoted during his Gettysburg Address? Well, if he indeed did believe in the Declaration, he most certainly didn’t trust that all men were equal. His original solution was to ship the slaves back to Africa, just to get them out of the country and not have to deal with the lot of them. Rather than believe that these men and women deserved their freedom, Lincoln felt that maybe they were entitled to it. Lincoln was no great abolitionist until he had to be one… and that, to me, makes him a real problem. If you are not for the effort, you are against it. There is no middle-ground. Especially on an issue about whether or not one person should own another.  

American presidents, racially divisive presidents, bad presidents, black excellence #4. Woodrow Wilson:

Woodrow Wilson is one heck of a guy. Went to Princeton. Went to Johns Hopkins. The only president to ever obtain a PhD. Also, an ardent racist. So much so, he once screened The Birth of Nation to his guests at the White House. For those who don’t know, the silent film depicts blacks as the rapists and criminals of society, while the Ku Klux Klan come across as the, literally, White Knights of America the beautiful. To many, it’s a cinematic masterpiece. To me, well, it’s racist as hell. Once the film saw wide-release, many whites felt justified in their racist actions toward blacks, and a sense of pride spawned, as well as a huge boost in numbers for the Klan. Wilson then had the nerve to segregate (in some cases further segregate) the federal government. Wilson, as a way to defend his actions, suggested that what he was doing was good for blacks, for their own benefit:

[We] were seeking, not to put the Negro employees at a disadvantage but … to make arrangements which would prevent any kind of friction between the white employees and the Negro employees.” Yeah, right. 50 years later, blacks were still trying to gain equal rights, and access to federal buildings. Just plain respect. That would have been a great benefit.

American presidents, racially divisive presidents, bad presidents, black excellence#3. Thomas Jefferson:

Known as the Negro President, Jefferson would most likely not have gotten into office were if not for the fact that he had more slaves than his opponent. During this time, on James Madison’s suggestion, slaves counted as votes. According to the rules, in what would be the precursor to the Electoral College and massive inspiration for it, a slave was determined to be three-fifths of a person, or three-fifths of one vote. As Jefferson had more slaves than his opposition, he took the job. Next came his dalliances with his slave, Sally Hemmings, which was a total slap in the face to all the slaves he wasn’t having sex with. The theory is, if you’re black and have the name Jefferson, you got some of the 3rd  president running all up and through you!

American presidents, racially divisive presidents, bad presidents, black excellence#2 Ronald Reagan:

Now whether or not you believe Ronald Reagan’s CIA had a direct hand in the crack epidemic that has thus far killed, or damaged, millions of people, primarily in the African American community, you must admit that things like Reaganomics, which overwhelmingly penetrated and damaged black neighborhoods, was a failure. Entire generations have been lost. And his hand in the “War on Drugs” has been a massive success for prisons. It’s produced scores of minorities with addictions, legions of fatherless children, and the list of fatalities via gang violence in the drug game continues to uptick. Here’s another thing, though…he wasn’t coy about who he was really attacking, in fact, he came right out and said it in many of his talks.

During several speeches, Reagan mentioned what he deemed the Welfare Queen, this amalgam of black women who live off the state to the most hyperbolic degree. Reagan said:

“She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

Those images are so deeply rooted in the American psyche, that facts bounce off of the general public like dodgeballs. Most Americans on welfare are white and lower class, with full-time jobs. Reagan was picking on the wrong color.

American presidents, racially divisive presidents, bad presidents, black excellence#1 Andrew Jackson:

Was there ever any doubt? President Jackson, founder of what would become the Democratic party, made his name by killing Indians. War hero during the Creek War, wherein nearly 1,600 Native Americans were killed, the First and Second Seminole Wars, and the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Then, his magnum opus, The Indian Removal Act, a forced removal of tens of thousands of Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Ponca tribes. Thusly, the Trail of Tears has gone down as one of the worst American atrocities against its own people ever.

And though he created a political party and paid off the national debt, what was the price of the man’s tenure? Millions of Natives moved off their land and onto reservations, which were later moved, more killed, moved, more were killed, etc. So many generations of Natives have been lost because of the atrocities of Jackson and his successors. So many, in fact, that estimates suggest another 20 of the 175 languages that currently exist in North America (there used to be 300) will be gone by 2050. And we’ve seen the way America’s poorest 1% live on Native American reservations—no running water, mass alcoholism, hopelessness.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely wanted to use FDR, for his interment of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans. I wanted to use Theodore Roosevelt for his general hatred of anything non-white. I even wanted to use Nixon and LBJ for their admittedly twisted views of who should vote and what places in society everyone should hold. Hell, even George Washington could have gone up. But not everyone can be so honored as to be the worst, racially speaking, and I’m sure if this list were longer, they’d all have massive chunks of screen-time.

Also, as much as I’d LOVE to put Donald Trump on here, I cannot. His term isn’t over. Therefore, he cannot be adequately judged. Something that should be of note, is his track record thus far, pertaining to how divided the nation has become under his brief tenure, with nearly 1,100 acts of racial violence in his first year.

Like Woodrow Wilson, Donald Trump is one of few presidents openly supported by the Klan. Or Neo-Nazis. Or other White Suprecist groups. Furthermore, there’s something so reminiscent of a 1920’s Klan campaign, one that states it wants to “Make America Great Again.” Maybe Mr. Trump is just oblivious to these things. He’s been known to have great lapses in judgement and to also not know what he’s talking about.

And, if you weren’t satisfied with this list, look on the news, or on this list. It gives a wide expanse of instances when Mr. Trump showed his true colors, his true feelings about various racial groups across America. But, don’t worry, Donald…you’ll be on lists like this soon enough, for years to come. Sad that we still have to add to lists like these, but that’s part of our American history, and these are the presidents we’ve elected. No chance of Making America Great anytime soon.

 

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Alex Miller is a freelance writer living in Harlem. His work has appeared in Forbes, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other places.