Chris White once drove three hours out of his way to see the spot where William McKinley was shot. In this column, he answers various questions about our nation’s past, present, and future presidents.

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George Washington was kind of a big deal, and he knew it. Well aware that people would pick through his letters one day, he was careful about what he wrote and bequeathed his papers to his nephew Bushrod (seriously) for careful editing. Wife Martha torched most of what George had written her before she died, probably to hide the fact that they stayed intimate via French Revolution erotic fan fiction. By the end of his presidency, some of his fellow founders were starting to talk smack about George and whine about his politics. But he knew that with a little bit of image management, his legacy could outlive them all.

When they drew up the job description at the Constitutional Convention, the point of the presidency was that you couldn’t be that awesome. You’d only get four years at a time, you’d only control a third of the government, and being commander-in-chief wasn’t quite as fun in the days before nuclear submarines. But even when America was a sparsely populated hick reservation, presidents wanted to have a legacy.

Until about 1825, just being the president was special enough. If the country wasn’t a burning continental race riot by the time you retired, you had helped reinvent representative democracy for all humanity, through the peaceful transfer of executive power. As long as you had a Bushrod on your side, history was going to treat you fine.

On other occasions, circumstance sometimes made it easy to find a legacy, like when Napoleon wanted to sell you half a continent, the South wanted to secede, or you happened to be the first Black guy to have the job. But more and more, we’ve subscribed to the notion that the president should be a little more proactive, really kicking hard in the direction of history’s groin. The tough part is figuring out exactly what to do.

You can’t do land grabs anymore. Jefferson snagged vast chunks of the mainland, and McKinley snapped up some islands. The world at present is pretty well spoken for, so any president looking at territorial expansion would have to go way outside the box: the moon, Mars, the ocean floor, Antarctica, or the lost city of Atlantis. All those options require significant advances in technology or magic, and so far our only magical president was Martin “The Little Wizard” Van Buren.

You can’t count on crushing an authoritarian regime, like Washington or FDR or Reagan did. That’s a totally awesome legacy, especially if it’s not one of those benign dictatorships you sometimes hear about—parading the head of King Friday XIII around town on a pike won’t do you much good if you’re the Republican president who finally kills PBS. It’s conceivable we’ll one day go to war as the underdog, whether we’re fighting the Chinese or some kind of space aliens. But how do you bank your legacy on the chance that a resource-hungry invader descends on our country with superior technology and is somehow dumb enough to employ tactics so pathetic they allow our feeble weaponry to prevail? And as for aliens, they might not even exist.

Making a new government program? Meh. Medicare and Social Security seemed like great ideas at the time, and millions of people can’t imagine life without them. But when demographic shifts have made it so that every old person is supported by the five non-robot workers left in our economy, those five people will curse the initials of LBJ and FDR, along with the initials of the XPR-2500, their robot supervisor/overlord. And we’re assuming people even remember to associate you with your program. When we’re using the Interstate Highway System to flee a Chinese or alien invasion force, will anyone take five seconds to praise the foresight of Dwight Eisenhower in encouraging our concrete escape routes?

You could fix global warming, but the UN is totally going to bogart the credit.

Your second-best bet is a philosophical movement. If you can come up with a paradigm that bakes the noodles of a generation, you’ll always have a prominent spot in history; for every grad student who tries to bring you down, two will rise hydra-like in your defense. Andrew Jackson’s posse championed a baser form of representative democracy and warped the nature of American politics for decades. Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson opened the door to the Progressive Era and the notion that presidents should have some outsized role in directing the nation (and creating their own legacy). Truman set up fifty years of international intrigue by trying to “contain” communism, and JFK empowered millions of young Americans to be self-righteous granola-munchers. Unilateralism is getting the short end of the stick right now, but folks like George W. Bush are going to be a lot more ambiguous in about thirty years. It’s really hard to say if they were “right” or “wrong.”

The best legacy would be a sure thing: one that will be remembered, and never poorly. It needs to inspire gratitude from all Americans throughout generations, and it needs to always be associated with the specific president, not the zeitgeist. The ideal legacy is a three-day weekend built on a holiday that bears your name. Shoot for a Monday in early August so everyone can get out to the lake, beach, levy, or music festival of their choosing without burning an extra vacation day. It will be a hard sell because declaring a holiday in your name is usually a move pulled by a divine-right monarch or the president-for-life of a former Soviet republic. You might grease the skids by legally changing your last name to something like Patriotism or Democracy.

But legacies aren’t supposed to be easy. The hot-dog-eating cookout patrons of the future will honor your commitment.