Meacham: Trump is Now Tied With Andrew Johnson as Most Racist President in U.S. History

Here is presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winner Jon Meacham on MSNBC:

I’m not sure how you measure this, but Trump would certainly be high on the list.  Johnson was pretty racist.  So was Andrew Jackson. (Meacham’s biography of Jackson won the Pulitzer).

Trump’s remarks were made at a time when racism in America is less overt and more subtle. His comments were also made at a time when we might expect our leaders to have learned lessons from America’s racist past.  Perhaps this all makes Trump’s remarks even more egregious than Johnson or Jackson.

15 thoughts on “Meacham: Trump is Now Tied With Andrew Johnson as Most Racist President in U.S. History

  1. Jim in STL,

    The DEMs started going really far leftward in the 60s and that culminated in the 1972 McGovern candidacy. Although a few of them have tried to correct the direction, it has not worked. The direction of the party really out of control now.

    The GOP, on the other hand, never really fought back until Reagan took office. Barry Goldwater would have been interesting, but his presidency not to be. The Bushes were simply placeholders but Trump is a true revolutionary. Hopefully, he can build some backbone into the “get along—-go along” Republicans.

    I don’t know how old you are, Jim, but I can recall the 60s very clearly. The GOP kept a usual minority in the House and Senate. It was called the Ev and Charlie Show with Everett Dirksen and Charlie Hallack (spelling?) seemingly content to play the loyal minority. Of course, the DEMs were a mostly balanced group in those days. “How are the mighty fallen…!”


  2. It may not have been right and it may not have been fair and still be it may be true as a matter of opinion and maybe even as a matter of informed argument. But still the debate is over whether Trump is now tied for most racist president or whether he comes in second, third, fourth, and so on. Trump, himself may not be racist in the sense of making a moral and ethical choice and I would lean in this direction since I do not believe that he has either moral or ethical mode in decision making and action. He’s at best an amoral non-ethical transactionalist But he is without a doubt stoking the racial divides and stoking fear and resentment into outright hostility. Whether he personally is a racist or just fanning the flames of racism is a distinction without a difference.

    And yes, our entire history as a nation requires nuanced and informed reflection. If that’s your argument then we are in agreement. However, a lot of people use isolated historical facts with no nuanced understanding as a political weapon. When I see the “ya but whataboutism” card played without clarity I just assume that it’s designed to neutralize whatever the point is of the discussion.

    Given this then, I assume that you are in agreement that today’s Democratic Party is not out grandad’s party and the same can be said of the Republican party.


  3. Jim in STL,

    So then, Jim, as a result of our tour of 20th Century (A.D.) nuanced civil rights history, I think we can all agree that Jon Meacham’s statement on Trump was neither wise nor fair. As in many areas, the heat of emotion and partisanship clouds truth. After all, the basic discussion was about Meacham’s ill-considered remark.

    I really don’t see him as an academic historian but rather a popular historian. Perhaps Dr. Fea would differ with me on that assessment.


  4. “I trust you know that he was following a precedent set by President Eisenhower years earlier in Little Rock. As you know, Ike was a Republican.”

    And Eisenhower, as President, followed in the footsteps of Harry Truman, Democrat, who signed Executive Order 9981 in 1948, establishing the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, committing the government to integrating the segregated military.


  5. Yes. Democrat George Wallace, a remnant of institutional southern bigotry, was a Democrat. Again, what is your point? Are you trying to say that he somehow reflects on today’s Democratic Party? The party moved on and the hard-core racists realigned, repented, went underground (see Southern Strategy), or disappeared.

    Even he managed to see the errors of his ways, sought forgiveness and moved on. This is from Wikipedia because it’s to late to do much more. You are welcome to fact check.

    “In the late 1970s, Wallace announced that he was a born-again Christian and apologized to black civil rights leaders for his past actions as a segregationist. He said that while he had once sought power and glory, he realized he needed to seek love and forgiveness.[note 2] In 1979, Wallace said of his stand in the schoolhouse door: “I was wrong. Those days are over, and they ought to be over.”[66] He publicly asked for forgiveness from black people.[66][67]”


  6. Jim in STL,

    I am pleased to read your acknowledgment that Jon Meacham’s statements about Trump supposed racism are not going to be universally accepted by historians. I will add that Jon Meacham might well be in a minority of one with his rankings. Regardless of his accuracy or lack thereof, I believe he acted rather hastily in making his remarks. Trump isn’t even through his first term, so I am not sure how fair or accurate he can be at this time. He is comparing other presidents with years of hindsight to a man whose full presidential results cannot be commensurately evaluated.

    Also it is good to read that you are placing blame on Democrat George Wallace for fighting integration. And, by the way, Jim, Lyndon Johnson was not first to use federal troops in support of integration. I trust you know that he was following a precedent set by President Eisenhower years earlier in Little Rock. As you know, Ike was a Republican.


  7. Helpful hint: slow down when you read. I did not say that the southern strategy started in the 1950s. It may not have started until Nixon’s presidential runs. Are you saying that there was no party dealignment-realignment? That the racist character o of the early 20th century Democratic Party is the same as the current Party. Why bring up Wilson, etc., with the emphasis that they were Democrats?

    “Didn’t Democrat George Wallace carry that banner in 1968?”

    You mean the one in Alabama? The South? One of the last big time Dixiecrats? The one that ran for governor while other democrats were advancing and passing civil rights legislation? Do you mean the George Wallace that championed segregation now and for forever and that caused Democrat Lyndon Johnson to send Federal troops to protect civil rights workers? The George Wallace whose racism was rejected my mainstream Democrats? Yes, I think you are correct. As I said, things were a changin’

    As I also said, Woodrow Wilson was steeped in religion yet, as has been pointed out, he was so racist – odd. See the word odd there.

    Meachim is certainly not ignorant. He stated an opinion. He might well be wrong. Wilson certainly deserves a run. I don’t know how it is in professional historian circles but if you put 5 geologists in a room you might get anywhere between 8 and 20 opinions on any given subject.


  8. Jim in STL,

    Nice try…..but no cigar

    The so-called Southern Strategy did not start in the 1950s and Lee Atwater was not influential at that time. Furthermore, when Atwater did become influential he did not promote segregation. Didn’t Democrat George Wallace carry that banner in 1968?

    So you seem to be excusing the imprisonment of the Japanese or at least trying to explain why FDR did it. Why didn’t FDR imprison German Americans? Did he have a racial bias?

    Finally, you seemingly explain Woodrow Wilson’s racism by linking him to his Presbyterian father. Do you think there is a causal relationship between Presbyterianism and racism? You would have a hard time proving that one.

    The big point you are missing is that Jon Meacham either ignorantly or intentionally made an inaccurate remark about Trump.


  9. Considering Andrew Johnson started his career breeding and selling “n*gg*r hounds” (bloodhounds used by slave-catchers to track runaways), that’s really saying something.

    How does either of them rank compared to Woodrow Wilson, who gave Presidential endorsement to Birth of a Nation (and the revived KKK) and made Federal Civil Service (one of the few non-stoop-labor opportunities for blacks) Whites Only by Executive Order?


  10. How many people here are familiar with the 1950’s and 1960’s party dealignment-realignment and the birth of the new Southern Strategy. Does the name Lee Atwater, Republican campaign consultant and operative, ring a bell? Does anybody remember the infamous 1981 interview, while he was working in Reagan’s White House, in which he explained the basis fore the Southern Strategy? It’s not pretty so I won’t give it away.

    I know that anybody trying to smear the present day Democratic Party with the actions of pre-realignment Democrats just hate this tidbit. Anyway, just look at the present Democratic Party composition for a rebuttal to this smear tactic.

    It does seem that Woodrow Wilson, a devout Presbyterian, Bible-verse slinger, and son of a theologian father, would hold a winning hand here. Odd.

    As to Roosevelt, can you name the Democrats of the post realignment that a) praise the Japanese internment camps, or b) do not condemn the Japanese internment camps, or 3) tweet that those of Japanese ancestry should go back to there original sh*th#le countries? (For the record, it was the current God-anointed President that brought the term sh*th#le, among other doozies, into the popular discourse.)

    Of course, we are talking about a period of time in the weeks/months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan, during a bloody and escalating World War, and the turning of public opinion against their fellow civilians, including among opportunistic politicians, civilian law enforcement and the military. Roosevelt was already fighting multiple fronts in a world war and likely didn’t want one at home.

    But, don’t let facts get in the way of a good partisan mud sling.


  11. To your point, Woodrow Wilson was so racist, he actually resegregated the federal government. That’s right: separate lunch rooms, separate bathrooms, screened off work spaces. Wilson, when confronted, said: “Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.” Wilson was a vehement “Lost Cause” supporter and avidly defended the Klan. He put the capital R in Racism.

    Has Trump done or said anything remotely close to this? Of course not. But, according to an eminent historian, Trump is worse, because: tweets. Or something.

    Meacham should be embarrassed.


  12. Am I wrong or wasn’t Woodrow Wilson deserving of a high ranking there?
    And James Buchanan. Thomas Jefferson didn’t believe the White and Black races were equivalent.
    Lincoln had his own issues there.

    Does the timeframe come into play? I mean does it matter that it seems a given there is no real excuse today?


  13. Jon Meacham needs to focus on the internment of perfectly loyal Japanese citizens by FDR, a good Democrat. Didn’t they also lose their businesses and dwellings? But why stop there? Woodrow Wilson officially sanctioned discrimination against blacks within federal employment and apparently enjoyed viewing the racist film, Birth of a Nation, right in the White House. Is Mr. Meacham being selective in his use of history?


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