Presidents since I’ve been alive, thumbnailed

Sometimes a recap on where we’ve seen the country going for over 60 years is useful, if only to awaken one’s indignation and yet understanding explaining an honest desire for many Americans to hanker after the times that were, the past, when we saw and felt the nation on a different course. 

Let me state, also, that there has always been corruption associated with power and prestige. And when that occurred — as with Vice-President Nixon in the early 1950s with “Checkers” — it was a huge scandal, played out across both parties. Can anyone today imagine that a dog given to a politician’s child could cause a scandal — even for FOX it would carry little sensation.

Presidents are special, they are seen as the moral and functional weathervane of the country, both here across the nation as well as internationally.

Truman — in power to serve, FDR’s right hand man, naïve when it came to foreign policy but a decent man serving his nation without guile or need of reward.

Eisenhower — a man aware, all too well, of the horrors of war and genocide serving, once again, his people and his nation — many would say also serving allies across the globe — in order to strengthen his nation, one he was proud to serve his whole life. His reward? Seeing prosperity across the states, preventing the USSR from gaining a toppling advantage and, perhaps most of all, restoring the industry and infrastructure of the USA. That was reward enough for the General.

Kennedy — a man who came from wealth, he had no need of more. His reward was power, power to reshape the world and reach for greater aspirations — technologically as well as civil rights. A man who read and understood the law, he (and his brother) strengthened all the police forces and the Justice Department.

Johnson — thrust forward, a man of great ambitions who was fairly morally corrupt himself except in one area — he understood the cost to the nation of our apartheid (Jim Crow and the segregation laws) — and he used every nasty, bullying, pleading measure to effect civil change. Part of that cost was allowing the Vietnam War to explode in lives lost and cost. He traded those lives for leverage back home to bring about Civil Rights legislation.


Nixon — a brilliant man when it came to the chess movements necessary global-politically, burning with the need and abuse of power he always craved. His raw need for control and power corrupted him absolutely and when he realized it was forever going to be his legacy — not China, not halting the USSR — it destroyed him and he quit.

Ford — a senator football player of little ambition except the title that earned respect he always wanted. That respect culminated when he was made president by default.

Jimmy Carter — an honest, decent man of wonderful moral character. Not tough enough or mean enough to combat all the rancor and back-stabbing in DC (GOP members who were angry that Nixon had been forced out), what he gave the nation was honesty nationally and internationally. Yes, he was too inexperienced on an international stage, but he never wavered in his moral convictions and honesty.

Reagan — a true patriot who was also a second-tier actor who wanted a bigger slice of fame and used the governorship (California) and then the presidency as stepping stones. Personal morals were steadfast bedrock mid-America but the business deals were straight out of Hollywood where he had been burned often before. Cut a backroom deal, renege on a proposal, use the media to secure the ending you wanted. Why did the USSR collapse? USAID and the Voice of America and Ted Turner broadcasting into the Soviet Union States — showing American abundance, American wealth. Number one shows in the Ukraine and Belarus in 1986? Dynasty and CNN.

Bush Sr. — a man serving the nation to the best of his ability. Money and power were unimportant to him. Focus and maintenance were everything. A true public servant.

Clinton — the first president driven by money. Money was the goal, enriching himself and allowing excesses. His policies and intelligent maintenance of the fiscal legacy he inherited from Reagan/Bush allowed him to pay off the national debt. He achieved great things, but money and the distance from his poor beginnings drove him on.


Bush Jr. — you cannot talk about Bush Jr. without talking about Cheney, whose motive, almost exclusively, was personal enrichment and then using that financial position for power to make more money. Only the last six months of his presidency did Bush realize what Cheney had done, what funds he had deluded the Treasury over ($1 trillion debt in August suddenly was found to be $9 trillion in November). Bush worked with Obama to rescue the nation, starting with telling Cheney to go home to Wyoming with his several billions made with Blackwater.

Obama — a good, decent, perhaps under-qualified man, his goal was to right the ship. And that’s what he did. Slights and arrows of outrageous attacks persist to this day because he did it without guile, without personal gain (a book deal for him and his wife making less than 20% of the history-revisiting nonsense Bill O’Reilly makes is hardly cashing in), to right the wrongs he could and fight for others to overturn Cheney’s processes of greed and corruption.

Trump — desperate for fame and acclaim all his life, a man who every year accused the Emmy awards for overlooking the “top” TV show when it never did better than 20th — he landed the presidency in a fluke and it allowed absolute success to corrupt him absolutely — absolute financial greed, absolute craving for fame, absolute need to acquire power by ruling without morals.

I wonder if we can ever return to the halcyon moral, public-servant days when I was born?

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.