Grilli: The presidency

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A problem has been growing almost unnoticed in American life for a little over a century. It is evident by the way dewy-eyed conservatives talk about President Ronald Reagan. It is evident by the way Stephen Colbert looks wistfully into the camera, whispering how dearly they miss President Obama. These two phenomena are symptoms of one and the same problem: the deification of the American president. By deification I mean, we are glorifying some presidents.

Before we can know what the American president is not, we must know what he or she is. Article 2 of the United States Constitution clearly spells out the roles and responsibilities of the office of president. These powers include the appointment of judges, command of the military, and so forth. He or she also has further obligations like the State of the Union Address. That is what the president is; he is these powers and no more.

The president is a pencil pusher. He is the chief bureaucrat in one of the three co-equal branches of our federal government. The president doesn’t have to set the legislative agenda, rouse the American people to achieve an idealized national morale, or, write laws of his own while Congress tightly zips their lips. As a nation of free people, the president should avoid these governing individuals tendencies and instead simply execute the office he was entrusted to uphold. In countries like Switzerland, with a federal republic, not all that dissimilar to our own. The president of the Swiss Federal Council mostly takes the subway to work and no one particularly cares who this individual is at any given time. The citizens merely go about their daily business. This is how a free people would ideally look at their leader.

Hopefully, the election of President Trump, will free the American people of the notion that the president should be held up as a great and dear leader. Coming out of the Obama administration, this will be a great and challenging change in attitude. The popular culture does their very best in creating a hero of the now former president. During his presidency, reporter Jeff Zeleny asked President Obama what enchanted him about being president. Today, after his tenure has ended, Stephen Colbert (as mentioned above) looks into the camera and tells the former president how much he misses him. Ideally, both of these sentiments would seem over the top. Today, people are beginning to understand that the president should not be a figure that the country turns to in either sickness or in health.

The attitude of the past century certainly has consequences. When the president is thought of as a demigod in the national imagination, it is no surprise that he is treated as such. In former times, farmers cursed the sun god for killing their crops and heckled the king for improperly appease the gods so as to result in a flood. Today, no matter how complex the intricate parts of the modern economy are, the praise or fault of its status lie squarely on the President’s shoulders. Regardless of how far the federal hand reaches in the economy (and it reaches), the president simply does not have control over every aspect of the global economy. He doesn’t have the power to make or break the gas station in New Rochelle or the diner in Flint. People will mock President Obama for the slow rebound of the economy after the housing bubble burst. While also singing hallelujah to President Trump now that the rate of economic growth is close to reaching the 3 percent watershed goal most people pine for. This is just like how the ancient Egyptians mocked or praised the sun god, Ra, for the crop yield. They are equally as rational. The de-escalation of the president in the American imagination could not come sooner. Ironically, President Trump might be just the man to do it. Is that a compliment?

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