Extreme Presidential Makeover

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Lancaster, Pennsylvania—Rather than lop off the heads of our failed leaders and shun their names, Americans have an endearing tendency to celebrate their misadventures with schools, highways, cities, and quarries upon quarries worth of marble monuments. And that’s what’s brought us to Lancaster, and the sprawling estate of our fifteenth president. How do you spin the legacy of a man universally regarded as one of America’s worst presidents? If you’re Patrick Clarke, director of James Buchanan’s Wheatland Estate in Lancaster City, it’s simple, really: Talk about his prior work experience. Although Clarke says he doesn’t avoid the presidency altogether, they make an effort to place his disastrous one term in the context of a lifetime of public service. It’s a bit like a music snob saying, “yeah, I liked their old stuff better.” But there’s some truth to it: While Buchanan was a terrible president, he was involved (if still terribly) in nearly every major bit of foreign policy during the nation’s age of expansion. Plus, Clarke notes, if Buchanan were a little less putrid, no one would have been clamoring for Abraham Lincoln.

Buchanan is noteworthy not just for his innovative style of crisis management, but for the theory that he might have also been our first gay president. Clarke says more than a few tourists have stopped by specifically to pop the is-he-or-isn’t-he question: “Some of the tour guides are incensed at the question,” Clarke says, “but I tell them, if you want to conclude that James Buchanan was heterosexual, that’s fine; if you want to believe that James Buchanan was homosexual, that’s fine too.” If Clarke has an inclination one way or the other, he doesn’t say. “We just don’t know,” he says. And barring the discovery of, say, the Presidents’ Book of Secrets, that’s how things will stay. “That’s one of the great things about history,” he says. “You can just keep on arguing forever.” That, and it’s full of second chances.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

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