In the Black Hills of South Dakota stands an impressive mountain: Mount Rushmore. The visitor is amazed to see, carved in the rock, the faces of four of the most beloved and revered American presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
Less known is the sculptor of Mount Rushmore. Gutzon Borglum, the son of Danish immigrants and born in Idaho, who studied at the Mark Hopkins School of Art, today the San Francisco Art Institute.
Many presidents have not claimed a spot in the pantheon Borglum carved on the mountainside. Some say there is still room for several more on Mount Rushmore, but the selection would unleash a partisan battle. Democrats would add Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, and Republicans would probably choose Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. But what about Harry Truman and William McKinley?
Let us consider those who have no possibilities, whom history will not remember with monumental goodness. Some, like Benjamin Harrison and John Tyler, have their own national historical sites. But what about the worst? Those will only have a generic inclusion among all presidents on Presidents’ Day.
It’s only notable achievement is that historians agree to prosecute them, not at all easy in today’s alternative facts and reality programs. For example, many historians agree that the presidency of James Buchanan (1857-61) was a catastrophe that led to the Civil War. But it also led to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, who all placed him among the best presidents of the nation.
Under the terms of other leaders, such as Warren G. Harding (1921-23) and Ulysses S. Grant (1873-1881), financial scandals occurred.
And President George W. Bush? It looks better these days, does it not? Bush did not want to discriminate against Muslims after 9/11, earmarked a great deal of aid to Africa in the fight against AIDS, and now he looks like a president with great capacity for expression. His mistake? Iraq remains a difficult disaster to repair or forgive.
And President Richard Nixon? In retrospect it looks good and bad. He made masterful geopolitical plays and his domestic policy was visionary (he proposed a national health plan and created the Environmental Protection Agency). But there’s the Watergate case that lingers over his head.
Other presidents seem immune to criticism. Kennedy’s charisma is second to none, despite his relationships with many women. And President Bill Clinton, in spite of the political trial against him, maintains great popularity among many Americans to ths day.
It is worth remembering that even great leaders can have failures. History offers a valuable lesson: leaders are not necessarily like granite. They are as human as we are, good and bad, with their strengths and their weaknesses.