In 1962, John F. Kennedy predicted, wrongly, that his administration would ultimately be measured by its contribution to the human spirit. Fifty-seven years and about 3,000 Wikipedia revisions later, history has proven that the only presidential measurement that matters is height—a president’s height relative to the height of Donald J. Trump, the physical height of his body, not “height” as in the heights of ambition or hope or rhetoric, etc, etc.
The battle over Donald Trump’s rightful place in the presidential tallness hierarchy has waged on over the past several years, without ceasefire, on the Wikipedia page “Heights of presidents and presidential candidates of the United States”—an edit war so bitter and petty and senseless that only our current president could have manufactured it. The saga is one of fact-finding missions and cloak-and-dagger attacks, conspiracy and lies, and ultimately, the fracturing of Wikipedia’s democratic institution.
They murdered the truth and left behind only one fact, and that is that every day is the dumbest day on the internet.
In the good old days, before Donald Trump had the nuclear football, Wikipedia was writing its constitution, and there were precedents to be set: whether band names start with “the” (“The Eagles”); whether Flavor of Love winner Deelishis should be referenced by her birth name (Chandra Davis); whether the “into” in Star Trek Into Darkness should be capitalized. (This being Wikipedia, they compiled the controversies into a nice list.) Trivial subjects, but overall, they’re principles any good editor would fight for: grammatical consistency, historical accuracy, names of public figures. Memorials like “The Great War” page for the Caesar salad debacle suggest that it wasn’t all in vain.
The first, 2004 iteration of “Heights of presidents and presidential candidates of the United States” started out in good faith, an unadorned list with a modest proposal: to explore the theory the taller major-party U.S. presidential candidates tend to win elections. In 2006, the post was amended with an introduction:
This is a comparative table of the heights of major-party U.S. presidential candidates, created to study the truth of the frequently stated ‘rule’ of U.S. presidential politics that since the advent of television, the taller of the two major candidates always wins. (The evidence shows the rule is a legend.)
Mostly, a user named Jengod quietly tended the page until 2007. Collaborators added a bit of helpful color-coding, an organized table, and citations. Even as presidents lost critical inches here and there, Jengod kept the peace. Bill Clinton was cut down an inch, making him shorter than George H. W. Bush; Theodore Roosevelt shrank from 5’10” to 5’8”; an inch and a half off William Howard Taft made him shorter than William Jennings Bryan.
As the article gathered steam and editors, rogue trolls invaded, occasionally: a bit of graffiti, like “george bush sux!” But the 2008 presidential election came and went with only minor squabbles. Barack Obama was added and removed and added again to the list of presidents, but we could all agree on one thing. President Obama is 6’1”.
On August 19, 2016, weeks after the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were officially declared their parties’ nominees, a table was added for the 2016 election. Donald Trump was 6’3”.
I’ll leave the stupid details at bare minimum, but here’s how they arrived at that figure: In 2015, the Washington Post ran an article titled, “Is Hillary Clinton getting taller? Or is the Internet getting dumber?,” which noted that Clinton’s height was vacillating between 5’5” and 5’7”, whilst Trump maintained that he is 6’3”, despite visual evidence to the contrary (namely, a side-by-side with Jeb Bush, who is, for a fact, 6’3”). After months of hemming and hawing over releasing his medical records (despite frequently wishing Clinton speedy recoveries from minor colds throughout the campaign), Trump produced a doctor’s note on Dr. Oz, listing his height at 6’3”–which critics were quick to notice made him just one inch taller than qualifying as “obese,” when factoring in his reported weight of 236 pounds. (A “Girther” movement ensued.) Media speculation reached a fever pitch in December 2016 when Politico ran a scan of his driver’s license displaying his height as 6’2”. The White House doctor reported a height of 6’3”, as did his former doctor in a sensational New York Times exposé about hair loss supplements.
Crossfire exploded. The presidential Wikipedia table so carefully crafted by its founders was besieged.
In November 2016, Donald Trump was elected president. Wishful thinking on “Heights” gave Obama a third term, briefly; others urged their fellow contributors to wait until the electoral vote was decided in December. Leading up to and throughout the administration, Trump shrank and grew from 0’1” to 20’12”.
It’s unclear who started it; the stupidity is manifold and nuanced, but a few key players have emerged. Over the course of years, users Martinkopperudandersen and 22 merlin have maintained that Trump is 6’0 ½”, no matter what anybody says. 188.8.131.52 has displayed symptoms of psychological torture over such “conspiracy theories,” and 2601:600:827f:b40a:3409:3908:fc20:ed7f has returned month after month to remove “Fake News Media” sources like the Guardian and CNN. They debate his height and his “current height” and his “actual height” and his “peak height.” Trump was temporarily named “that sexist asshole.”
They did not (and do not) stop for Christmases and New Years.
If Trump were 6’3”, it would make him the third tallest president, beneath only Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson. But what if he were 6’3 ½”???
After the inauguration, the Tall Army re-upped its ammo with photographs of Trump pictured next to various world leaders whose heights are undisputed public knowledge, declaring Trump taller than both Obama (6’1”) (questionable) and Justin Trudeau (6’2”) (questionable). Contributors added visual edits; edits were deleted; edits were restored. The Short Army countered with this photo:
“If wikipedia is to be based on truth, rather than fact, then 6ft3 is untenable,” one Wikipedian wrote. “By comparing a large number of photographs of Trump with other people of known heights, it is clear that his height is 6ft1 or about 186cm, at most 187cm. For instance, check him alongside Obama.”
“Photographs are not verifiable proof that the president is lying about his height because pictures can be deceptive,” Millionsandbillions countered. “Someone who is tall can appear shorter than a shorter person if the taller person in a photo is slouching and the shorter person in a photo is stretching, for example.”
User Formertip intervened with an appeal to reason. “The photograph is not reliable either for the heights or relative heights of the people in it,” they wrote. “These factors and perhaps some more may have the effect of making things look true which are not: the effects of perspective, the angle of the camera lens, the presence or absence of Cuban heels and height-boosting insoles, how close together the subjects’ feet are, their posture.” Formertip proffered that Clinton has been measured at 6’2” and 6’2 ½” at different points in his life, musing that “I don’t think it’s unusual for people to be measured and fluctuate like that.”
“Trumps height wasfake news, photos ofhis drivers license claim he’s 6 ft 2 in,” Vicemode declared.
“DMV makes mistakes the White House doctor measured him a 6' 3'’,” answered Millionsandbillions.
“Reputable third parties, his driver license, his college measurement and the community vote in Celebheights all agree that he’s 6.2,” parried WetGlass. “the only claim against that comes from Trump himself and the White House, both of which have shown to be extremely economical with the facts.”
“drivers license only goes by the height you say,” 184.108.40.206: has pointed out. “He could have said he was 50 feet if he wanted to.”
On the talk page, Wikipedians examined their biases, their values, their sense of duty. Is visual confirmation reliable? Can we trust doctors? Do government documents like a driver’s license supersede White House press releases?
“Wikipedia is based on facts, not on personal beliefs,” WWGB, who has vowed to revert vandalism on the page for years, added. “Sources on President Trump’s height shall not be journalists speculations on pictures but rather statements from qualified doctors.”
“If you’re going to dismiss Doctors’ statements you can dismiss the whole of Wikipedia, especially this page,” 220.127.116.11 wrote.
“My view is not based on my political beliefs, but on the clear evidence,” 331dot replied. “I did not say their determination, poor as it is, should be excluded, but it does need to be in context.”
Nineteen edits have been made in December 2019 so far. The war will drag on into 2020, Wikipedians are assured.
“Reverted vandalism yet again,” wrote 18.104.22.168 in 2018, “as I will continue to do as long as this article exists and I’m alive.”
As of this writing, 22.214.171.124 has disappeared, which I can only assume means that he’s dead.
RIP 126.96.36.199. RIP Wikipedia. Good riddance, 2010s.