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Who Should Be Allowed to be President?

Posted at 22:51:37, 2016-11-09


It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. ...anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.

~ Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

I posted this quote on Facebook in the last days of the 2016 presidential election here in the States, and got the predictable number of Likes™ and acknowledgements, along with a rather thought-provoking follow-up question:

Who should be allowed to be President?

Before I begin, I should make it clear that I have a very strong stance on the outcome of yesterday's election, and will have to make a significant effort to avoid talking from a personal perspective. I will also try to avoid directly offending any particular group of voters, though I doubt I will be entirely successful on that front given the subject matter.

The fundamental problem presented here is that for anyone who becomes President, it follows that that individual was willing to be put through the incredibly arduous, comically narcissistic process of spending the greater part of two years(1)Just think about that for a moment: we're to the point where our candidates spend most of an entire congressional term campaigning for President. running all over the country begging people to give you the one thing they are allowed to have once every four years.

We see many ways candidates go about this, ranging from graceful to outright brash, but the fact is that presidential elections are popularity contests. Whoever becomes the "cool," popular candidate usually has the best shot at achieving victory. Thus, we see commentators talking about who's "running the best campaign" or "appealing best" to this group or that demographic. They harp on these issues because they truly are important and consequential – largely because of the way the commentators (and the companies they work for) cover the candidates throughout the election, but that's an issue for some other time.

Why Douglas Adams Is Wrong

Well, first of all, I'm going to argue that Adams' political analysis is wrong.

The fact is that we had two main-ticket candidates here – Clinton & Trump – and they were both hated quite a lot.

Hillary Clinton is hated by Republicans-at-large for her closeness to the Obama administration, her standing in the Democratic Party, her stances on certain issues, and that she's a liar and completely untrustworthy. I can't tell you what exactly it is that she's untrustworthy about, but she does have that air about her, reciting her way through politics the way she has for years. She is also hated by a lot of Democrats now for her hand in engineering the obvious(2)Without documented proof, mind you, but all the signs were there and everyone knows it happened election fraud that took the Democratic nomination away from Bernie Sanders.

(There is also the irreconcilable issue for many that, quite simply, Hillary is female. Without throwing fancy words around like "sexism" and "misogyny," it is clear as day that many people in our country cannot stomach the idea of women holding positions of power. I will probably write about this at greater length another time, but let's just get that out there.)

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is hated for some quite different reasons. He is considered to be unqualified, a word referring to the peculiarity of his presidential candidacy given that he has never held elected office in his life. He also has a very troubling tendency to use crowd-mentality hatred to get what he wants, meaning his candidacy largely hinged upon his ability to co-opt White America's frustration with globalization and America's trend towards becoming more racially & sexually diverse. In fact, Trump appears to be in favor of an America that consists primarily of European descendants, railing against the ever-rising influx of Mexican & Middle Eastern immigrants and very much appealing to widespread white nationalism that the Progressive movement thought largely subdued.

These are not the only reasons that Trump had support, of course, but it comprises a great deal of why his opponents developed such vitriol for him. Modern Progressivism seeks to use the resources of the wealthy to provide better legal protection for classes that need it—generally, those who are not wealthy white cis-gendered heterosexual men—a notion we see often deeply resented by wealthy white cis-gendered heterosexual men. Progressivists see Trump as Enemy #1, who would use the power of the Executive to turn years back on the clock for the Progressive movement.

(There is also, for many, the irreconcilable issue of Trump's rather hideous treatment of young women. He is a product of his time, to put it one way, and the wealth and privilege of the life he has led only exacerbates this.)

But the reason to argue that Adams is wrong is this: one of these two people was the kind of person we needed. Hillary, for all her flaws, has bred herself into the political machinations of Washington. She has more connections both here & abroad probably than you & I can fathom. She's been to nearly half the countries in the world and met their leaders, and it seems pretty likely that, given the way the political business is run, she'd be able to navigate the system effectively. She could "play the game," if you will.

As for Trump, he's painted himself as a hero of the common folk, and clearly wants to bludgeon the political system to death. He wants to establish a new way of doing things, and so far, maybe he's on to something. Maybe he could be the one to cut through all the corruption and bickering and actually get some things done. He could "change the game," if you will.

Basically, I would say a person's willingness to be President is not a disqualifier but a necessity, given the state our political system is in.

Why Douglas Adams Is Right

On the other hand, to say that the President must fit into the system as it exists is to patently accept the system as it exists.

I'm referring to an argument that is frequently made against the notion of term limits: that you can't force congresspeople out after too short a time because you need experienced leaders that know how Washington works – to which I like to say that maybe if our leaders didn't spend their lives in politics, our system wouldn't be such a mess that such "experience" was required.

And the simple beauty of Adams's statement is this: you should fear people that want to control you, because if they want it badly enough, they can probably find a way to do it.

Granted, not all of us see our federal government that way. We see our levels of government not so much as controllers of our lives but regulators of our lives – systems that hold us all to similar (or at least comparable) financial, moral, and ethical standards. Governments are meant to guide us into systems that establish the greater good for all people, and to punish those who disobey those guidelines and thus display their contempt for the greater good.

The problem is that once you introduce corruption and self-interest into politics(3)According to studies, this is generally accomplished by allowing humans to participate in politics. there is not a very clear line between "regulating for the greater good" and "controlling for nefarious purposes".

A lot of us like the idea of paying property taxes to support our local school districts, but what if you don't like the way your local school is run? What if you think that the school is cultivating substandard ethics in its student body? What if they're wasting your money, or teaching things you don't believe in?

A lot of us like the idea of speed limits because they go a significant distance to prevent car crashes. But what about overenthusiastic police precincts who overenforce these laws as a means of drawing extra revenue for the state?

The fact is that government exists to control you. No matter what kind of government it is, it is going to control some aspect of your life. Politics is all about deciding just how much your government is going to control you and in what ways – i.e., how much freedom you're willing to give up for certain securities.(4)Here's to you, Ben Franklin. This is generally something to keep in mind when you're considering the policies and philosophies your political leaders are proposing.

Your favorite candidate may suggest something that sounds nice, but it always can be reduced into its simplest transactional terms: what are you giving up, and what are you getting in return for it? Well, the President is considered head honcho when making decisions regarding what you are going to be giving up (like it or not) and what you'll be getting in return for it (want it or not). When someone is running for President, what they're really saying is this: "I want to be the one who decides how much of your worth you surrender and what you get in return for it."

And, according to Douglas Adams, anyone who wants that power over you should under no circumstances be allowed anywhere near it.

But We Need a President, Don't We?

Sure. We need the Executive just as much as we need the Legislature and the Judiciary.(5)0 = 0 = 0? The problem is that over the decades, the government has taken on more and more responsibility, and questions are constantly raised over how much more can be taken. That presidential candidate who wants to control those little bits of your life is going to be responsible for quite a lot of bits now – and the more power a president has, the worse the consequences are for the election of a president you don't like. If the government wasn't responsible for more than, say, the military, foreign affairs, and building highways, then elections wouldn't be so consequential and it'd be much easier to get on with it after watching your preferred candidate lose.

But our federal government has its fingers in every aspect of our lives, from our food to foreign nations to marriage laws to income taxes, and each one of these fits into one of my above examples: at what point does regulation for the greater good turn into controlling for nefarious purposes? The president you vote for is responsible, in part, for all of it.

Let's take one issue in particular: marriage equality.(6)Or, if you prefer, just pretend I'm calling it Legalized Sodomy That Will Send All Americans To Hell The government has thrust marriage equality laws upon all the states; same-sex couples in the entire country can legally marry and be entitled to all the benefits within the institution. Many states in the country had already done this themselves through referenda (or otherwise), and when it was legalized at the federal level there was much complaint that certain states "weren't ready" for it.

And that's why we have state governments, right? So that people from the diverse cultures of the different states can handle all of the varying affairs in their own way. But hang on – every time a state legally declared marriage equality, there were complaints within the state. The states are not homogeneous; they are also diverse in their ranges from rural to suburban to urban.

So should these issues perhaps be left to the different counties? Cities? Communities? That would probably make a lot more people happy.

Unfortunately, having diverse laws from town to town creates the "if you don't like it here then leave" mentalities. You have communities living in bubbles, unconcerned with the affairs of others.

This is not the world we live in – not anymore.

We are a population constantly in geographical flux, and we don't expect to be treated differently every time we travel from one town to another – our identities don't change when we travel, so why should the ways we are treated change?

It was one of the bigger issues when marriage equality was still being legalized on a state-by-state basis: married couples could cross a state border and suddenly find themselves in a completely different situation. "If you don't like it here, stay out" is no longer a practical means of avoiding this problem.

We, as people and as an electorate, must consider the problems and perspectives of all people: from our neighbors on the street to our friends on the other side of the country. There are certain kinds of rules that still make sense to legislate at the local level, but globalization is going to trend away from this. We already frequently find ourselves making decisions regarding what are important facets of our culture and what are not. Slavery, for instance, was eventually decided to be no longer an integral part of who we are as Americans.

And that's who is qualified to be President.

Not someone who wants to control your life, but someone who understands that there is a delicate balance between the unstoppable trend towards globalization and the importance both of preserving local cultures and deciding what are necessary pieces of those local cultures.

And until our way of electing our representatives changes, someone like that is going to be damn hard to convince to run for office.


Previous Posts

This Election's Theme: FEAR
        On 2016-10-24

When Religion Supplants Empathy
        On 2016-05-28

The Utilitarian Case for Universal Unisex Lavatories
        On 2016-05-05

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