The most inexperienced president in American history has officially been sworn in.
In the office’s storied 227-year existence — from George Washington to Barack Obama — there has never been a president who has entirely lacked both political and military service. Donald Trump has broken this barrier.
I went through historical presidential archives and manually compiled each president’s total years of service to the country prior to being elected. I define “public office” as any elected or appointed government position and “military service” as active duty in any capacity, including leadership positions. In cases where service amounted to less than one year (like Washington’s three months as a delegate, or Lincoln’s three months in the militia), I rounded up to a full year.
Here’s how our 44* (now 45) presidents stack up:
The previous US presidents (1789 to 2016) came into the White House with an average of 13 years in public office and 5.6 years of military service.
Donald Trump’s tally: zero, on both counts.
Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower — the only other presidents with no public office experience — served a combined 100 years in various military roles before taking office. By contrast, Trump received five draft deferments, including one for temporary “bone spurs” on his heels. During the 2016 election, he insulted multiple war veterans, including Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam POW.
Prior to his presidency, Martin Van Buren, our 8th president, spent 31 years in public office, including stints as a senator, governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and vice president. Trump operates a chain of hotels and golf courses.
A deeper look at our past presidents’ public service records reveals an even starker division between Trump and his predecessors:
Three-quarters of all presidents cut their teeth in federal government positions just prior to being elected. Extending beyond the four positions pictured above, 18 presidents were US representatives, 16 were US senators, and 14 were vice presidents. Eight served as Cabinet secretaries, six as secretaries of state, and seven in the foreign service. At the state level, 17 presidents were previously governors.
More than half served in the military, nine of whom were US Army generals.
Obama isn’t looking “inexperienced” now
In the months leading up to the 2008 election, prominent Republicans adopted the battle cry that Barack Obama — previously a senator of 12 years — was too unseasoned for the White House. (“We should not elect somebody as untested and inexperienced as Obama,” RNC spokesperson Alex Conant told the New York Times a month before the election.)
Now, a man who is truly inexperienced has assumed Obama’s duties.
Trump’s lack of public service is part of the “outsider” appeal that may have contributed to his success: Polls have shown that most Americans, especially Trump supporters, distrust the government.
"[Trump], Thank God, is not a politician,” one supporter tweeted back in March. “But he's one heck of a fighter who will fight for us, the people."
Will that prove to be true?
*Note: Grover Cleveland was both our 22nd (1893-1897) and 24th (1885-1889) president. In my analysis, I counted his first presidential term as prior experience his second time around.