All of the President’s duties can fall into one of two categories. The first category is by far the largest, but by no means the most important. The first category is the bureaucratic and the clerical. The president fills different leadership roles within the federal government itself. The president is the commander in chief of the armed forces, is responsible for the employees of the executive branch of the government, is the chief legislator of the nation and is the guardian of the economy. In order for any government to function, someone has to do those things.
Most of the candidates in the running are competent enough to fulfill basic bureaucratic needs. Granted, the winner must be able to rally support within the pre existing bureaucracies in order to get anything done. That may make it difficult for certain candidates, such as Donald Trump, to effectively act as President. Trump is unpopular among democrats, of course, but many of his incumbent party members have expressed their public disapproval as well.
The second category of tasks is seemingly more superficial, but nonetheless an important part of the job, especially in our media driven culture. The President is expected to perform all the duties that a chief of state might otherwise, without neglecting their other duties. England has a Queen and a Prime Minister, we have a singular president who is expected to fulfill the responsibilities of both a practical leader and a figurehead. A certain amount of showmanship is expected from any public figure. It is good for the American people to see their president doing things like pardoning turkeys and hunting for easter eggs. Does President Obama have better things to be doing at any given moment? Yes. But, in order for the American people to trust the president, they must be a visible and non-threatening figure.
According to the Pew Research Center, the American public’s trust in the federal government has reached historic lows. Only 19 percent of Americans in 2015 said that they could trust the government to do what is right most of or all of the time. Compare that to the year 1958, when 73 percent of Americans said yes to the same question. Ever since Watergate the American public has trusted less and less, which is a fact Richard Nixon himself acknowledged. He was fully aware that his breach in trust greatly impeded his ability to lead the nation effectively. When he announced his resignation of the presidency he said, “America needs a full-time President,” meaning, someone who does not need to spend half of the time worrying about rehabilitating a public image. In light of the fact that public faith in our governing bodies is bottoming out, it may be safe to say we have not had a full time president in too long.
The American people want to believe in their elected officials, hence why candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have risen to prominence. Voters are responding to them because they both are considered “Washington Outsiders.” Trump made the majority of his money outside of the world of politics. Sanders is a career politician, however, he has distinguished himself from other members of congress by aligning himself against Washington practices like lobbying.
In an ideal world, our next president would become a public figure that people believed, and even better, believed in. The rehabilitation of the federal government’s image could help bridge some of the bipartisan gaps that have been created in our political landscape. As it currently stands, the citizens trust no one, and the politicians openly condemn members of the other party. The propaganda campaign against the Obama Administration is a perfect example of bipartisan politics today. The misinformation produced by the parties themselves further polarizes their constituents. Members of either party feel as if the corruption is coming from the other side. This atmosphere makes compromise nearly impossible. The bottom line is this: the candidate that can unify America is the most deserving of the presidency.
That is, of course, easier said than done. On many topics, such as with gun control and immigration reform, a compromise will be difficult to sell to both Congress and the public. Difficult times though, have bred some of our most beloved leaders. James Buchanan remarked “I am the last president of the United States!” as he was leaving office and the Civil War was dawning. Abraham Lincoln then took office, and went on to become one of (if not the) greatest presidents in history.
A daunting presidency can breed great presidents. Lincoln took office during times of American hardship, as did Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I do not envy our next president. They have a tough road ahead, both domestically and internationally. But I can only hope that these difficult circumstances will give the next great American leader a chance to emerge.