Presidents’ Day often involves reflecting on the men who who were presidents. For many, this day is often a time to viciously criticize our least favorite of these men. (Believe me, it takes very little prodding for me to bring up the fascism of FDR, the Native American slaughters of Lincoln, Reagan’s Iran-Contra affair, etc.).
Regardless though of whether this reflection takes on a positive or negative light, it is almost always limited to the men themselves, and not the presidency as an institution. But if we did more of that, we might see that the ever-present “badness” of American presidents is due far more to the presidency itself than to any of the presidents’ own moral failings.
The presidency is and always has been a black hole of power, and presidents are essentially term-limited Caesars. There is supreme truth that power corrupts and a simple fact of humanity is that we are not made to withstand the crushing gravitational forces of power that come with a position like the presidency. Even the best of humankind when faced with the temptation that comes along with that power will see their morality crumble.
There are no good presidents. Yes, decent, moral people can (and have) occupied the Oval Office, but the presidency itself is a rotten role requiring the shedding (at least, temporarily) of goodness. Any one who wants to be simultaneously a good person and President will ultimately fail at one of those things.