Presidential Personalities in a Superficial Republic
When Donald Trump’s White House issued Executive Order 13813, altering some of the parameters of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) on October 12, 2017, media outlets scurried to find out what this meant for the millions of persons on Obamacare. Rhetorically it is supposed to “expand … access to alternatives to expensive … insurance [plans]”. So far, it does not look to endanger significant aspects of the law. However, perhaps because it is Trump, many have begun to question the legality of the executive power to wet its toes in matters of Congress—people who would not have questioned it under President Barack Obama.
The greatest safeguard against the abuse of executive power is the character of the person occupying the office. George Washington refused to be addressed as “Your Highness”; he refused to turn the presidency into a hereditary, life-long position; he refused to make all the decisions, and instead deferred to chosen counselors—the Presidential Cabinet. I look at the people in office today and I see an existential threat to America. Donald Trump is wholly lacking the character I expect from a President. I agree that political correctness is often a straitjacket by which we limit the boundaries of our speech, and thus the range of our thinking and dialogue, in order to protect sensitivities, poorly supported conceptions and worldviews as fragile as glass. However, Trump has shown a disregard not just for the value of etiquette or manners, but for the value of people. He refuses to see what is wrong with groping women as he pleases; he refuses to see the moral issue that his feud with Kim Jong Un raises, namely the endangerment of millions of South Koreans and Japanese at the expense of American lives; he refuses to see that the rule of law begins at its enforcement and that his hindrance of the Russian ties investigation destroys his credibility.
Yes, I do believe that Trump is a greater threat to America than Kim Jong Un. But that is not my point. Hate him as much as you want, but it still does not address the problem that when Trump issues an executive order, liberals are triggered; or comparatively, when Obama issued an executive order, conservatives were triggered—and often for the most foolish reasons: a lack of understanding. We have limited our range of thinking to act immediately on our impulses. Certain politicized words trigger our defensive mechanisms and we make hasty and ill-advised assessments. An old history joke lampoons the silver versus gold standard debate that polarized American politics in the 1890s—everyone had an opinion, but no one knew how it worked or why it mattered.
America has arrived at the problem of Trump, ultimately, because it has come to value personality over character. The shift in entertainment values illustrates this: Full House and Family Matters are out, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Ball in the Family are in. We see this in politics too: President Jimmy Carter might have been a good man with good policies, but Ronald Reagan got results – he defeated the Soviets after all! The same goes with the Elder Bush and his successor, Bill Clinton – look how crime rates plummeted during Clinton’s time in office! In both cases, a one-term president who by all metrics performed his task well, ethically, and appealed across party lines was tossed out of office by a more appealing, charismatic, and results-oriented candidate. Trump is the inevitable result of this modern tendency to take a man at his word rather than for his past; to support a platform with well-worded and appealing slogans rather than to think about the ramifications for ourselves, our democracy, and other human lives. We would rather listen and agree than think, engage, criticize, and improve.