Two Bad Kings and Two Bad Presidents


Philip Abbott is Distinguished University Professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. His most recent book is Accidental Presidents: Death, Assassination, Resignation and Democratic Succession.


One of the rewards for those engaged in presidential studies is the opportunity to rank presidents. Identifying great presidents is often the focus of this pastime. As important, perhaps—and as engaging—is the identification of bad presidents. Is their “badness” the polar opposite of “greatness”? Is badness easier or more difficult to define than greatness? Based on the insights found in Shakespeare's treatment of two bad kings, I identify two kinds of bad presidents and suggest that the relationship between great presidents and bad ones is a complex one that may lead us to revaluate what makes some presidents great.