Pete Riehm
Declining and diminishing American presidents
By Pete Riehm
February 14, 2023

The United States has been blessed with some truly impressive men that ascended to the American presidency, arguably the most powerful position in the world. Great men of character, humility, intelligence, and integrity—leaders devoted to serving the people and dedicated to preserving our Constitutional Republic. If it was not for the selfless leadership of our early presidents, our Republic probably would not have survived. While all certainly had their political struggles, it seems the presidents of yesteryear rose above the political din, but most of our modern presidents don’t really rise above the Washington rabble and some even seem to wallow in the putrid Potomac politics.

The father of our country, George Washington, is still the greatest and most consequential president of all time. Washington was the epitome of humility and integrity. His character was beyond any reproach. Successful in private life, Washington never ignored the call of duty and always selflessly served this nation. He was the most trusted man in our new young country. Some even suggested he become our new king, but he would never betray our founding of freedom and entertain a new tyranny. There were no term limits on presidents then, so he could have had has many terms as he liked. However, Washington believed in the citizen statesman, so he set the then accepted standard of two terms by declining to run for a third term. He voluntarily and peacefully passed power to the next elected president which was a new and novel concept at that time.

Our early presidents all played a key role in our founding, and they dearly loved this country. Though they had their disagreements, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe all molded the American presidency and the republic. They respected the presidency, but respected the people more. Therefore, they sought to maintain the balance of power between the branches. Unlike our modern presidents which seek to empower the executive over the other branches.

After Washington, ugly partisanship did already seep into presidential politics. Adams became the leader of the Federalists advocating for more central control in a federal government, and Jefferson led the opposition advancing a smaller central government and more power to the states. So the presidential election of 1800 was the first hotly contested election. Despite the tumult and turmoil, Adams and Jefferson eventually renewed their friendship and wrote each other regularly for the rest of their lives about how our Republic should work. Coincidentally, both Adams and Jefferson died on the Fourth of July in 1826.

Many presidents have faded from the national consciousness, and a few stand out in history for remarkable achievements or their transformational leadership, like Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt. Even some somewhat controversial presidents like Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon are remembered fondly for always putting America first.

Unfortunately, as we come to our recent past presidents, they generally don’t seem to measure up to the long shadows cast by presidents from generations ago. Perhaps we are still too close to them, but the past half century or so our presidents are overall not known for their character, integrity, and selfless leadership. They are rather noted for their charisma, partisanship, or political savvy. Sadly, some are known for abject incompetence and even outright corruption. Few are remembered for their devotion to America.

Our culture has become coarse and crass, so we elect the same. Mutual respect and reverence for our institutions all seem lost to opinion polls and political expediency. It’s all about getting elected no matter the cost. Americans certainly want presidents with strong convictions that will stand for our timeless principles, but most seem only interested in political sniping to gain power. Americans want fighters, but they expect them to act honorably and with humility. Tragically, more often we get grandstanding, petty bickering, and even bold-faced lies.

In modern times, one president was an exemplar of dignity, humility, and patriotism: a genuine statesman. Those seeking the American presidency would do well to learn from Ronald Wilson Reagan. He was a man of character and integrity. He fought for his beliefs, but he was respectful even to his opponents. He would disagree, but not demonize. He loved America and it was obvious. His love of God was also abundantly apparent. There was no doubt everything Reagan did was for the betterment of this country and its citizens. Reagan always put America first.

Reagan is long gone and regrettably there seems few if any following his example. Our leaders may not heed Reagan, but they will heed the voters. We The People must not reward the partisan hacks manipulating our politics. We should be promoting and voting for truly magnanimous leaders that openly fear God, love this nation, and always put America first!

Happy President’s Day!

“Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens” Exodus 18:21.

Pete Riehm is a conservative activist and columnist in south Alabama. Email him at or read all his columns at

© Pete Riehm


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Pete Riehm

Born to German immigrants, Pete Riehm grew up in Texas as a first generation American. Working his way through college, he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. After graduating from the University of Houston, Pete was commissioned into the United States Navy through Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. He also earned a Master's Degree in National Security from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas... (more)


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