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In the early days of the Republic, Vice President John Adams suggested the title of Highness, until he thought that expressed “insufficient dignity”, and changed his suggestion to “Majesty“. Thankfully, Madison convinced our first President to settle with the honorific “Mr. President“, showing respect yet avoiding the trappings of monarchy that they had recently overturned.
I’ve never been much for the pomp and circumstance which has surrounded the modern day Presidency, which has grown far from our founder’s vision of an executive department that appeared much less important than the legislative branch. Such a turn into an imperial Presidency seems to have been largely do to the actions of FDR and the coerced acquiescence of the judiciary under him. FDR used new electronic forms of media, an explosion of executive agencies, and the creation of permanent programs to administer to transform the office into what we know today.
But the problem here is even deeper than an increase in power. Part of the problem lies in a change of perception of the office by those it has power over. We were comforted by the easy answers peddled in fireside chats. We cried when we saw JFK martyred on TV. Reagan felt like morning sunshine from beyond the horizon over the hill. When Obama said that the moment of his ascension was when the waters began to recede and the planet began to heal, he had followers who believed him.
Conversely, every President of my lifetime has been thought to be a step removed from Antichrist by many of their opposition.
It’s not just that Presidential words have become executive orders and pronouncements that claim to hold the power of law. It’s that Presidential words by their nature are expected to be sermons, even of Presidents that don’t have the best words and limit their public pronouncements to a hundred and forty characters, one of which is often “sad”.
It’s not just that Presidential actions have become more brazen and such power less questioned on validity. It’s that Presidential personal lives have become more important and less personal. JFK and Bill Clinton had their tabloid sexploits and inhale moments, Nancy had her Ouija Board seances, Obama’s associations and church membership and speculations about his birth were front page, and Trump… well, there’s quite a bit to chew there.
Evangelicals have excused Trump by saying they weren’t there to elect a pastor in chief, but that’s exactly what voters have expected for decades. When 9-11 came, we as a nation came together to hear the words of W. When the Wall came down in Berlin, our leaders were not in our churches or synagogues, they were in the oval office.
But as much as we have come to worship one man in a political office, we have demanded perfection to the point of demonizing every action they take (at least if they are “not our President” or on “our side”).
On Facebook and Twitter today, there are those who are criticizing Trump for donating a million dollars of his own money to charities helping pick up the pieces of hurricane Harvey. As rich as he is, he should have donated more, he should have donated to other charities, he’s only doing it for how it looks politically, the donation is proof that he’s cash poor, he should have done more with personal appearances or he should have done less given disruptions of security. The point is… I have seen our President attacked literally for donating a million dollars of his own money to help Americans in need (as opposed to the federal government in the case of nps or doe). I didn’t vote for or support Trump… but this is reaction is ridiculously disgusting and increasingly common.
I can’t do away with radio, TV, the internet, or social media, and I wouldn’t if I could. But I long for the days of Silent Cal, when the average American couldn’t pick the President out of a lineup.