Presidential roles and the election of Donald Trump

More than a year ago I wrote about the different roles of a U.S. president. Now that the election is over, here are some personal thoughts about President-elect Trump and how he might fit into some of those roles.

Many liberal democracies separate the roles of “head of state” from “head of government.” The head of state is the ceremonial representative of the values and “soul” of a nation. The head of government, on the other hand, is the day-to-day leader of the political system.

Contrary to many of my liberal friends, I’m actually not entirely flustered by the election of Donald Trump to be the United States head of government. He legitimately won in a fair and free election according to the institutional rules of our political system and will be joined by a Republican majority in Congress.

For many years now I have been persuaded that we have too many veto points in our political system. Given the current state of partisan polarization the only time anything truly substantive happens is when a single party controls both the Presidency and Congress, including a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Since that rarely happens, substantive problems are rarely addressed or resolved. I would prefer a system where the majority party were more empowered to govern and more readily able to translate its campaign promises into political action and policy. This would increase governmental responsiveness which I believe to be important in a liberal democracy.

President-elect Trump and the Republican Congress have every legitimate right to move ahead and to try their best to fulfill as many of their campaign promises as they can. I’d even be okay if the filibuster were eliminated in the U.S. Senate, giving Republicans full ability to enact their agenda. In my view, that would increase governmental accountability because then they alone would be responsible for the outcome of their efforts. As it stands, any failures can easily be blamed on Senate Democrats wielding the filibuster. If they had full responsibility then they alone would receive either credit or blame for the outcome. This would (theoretically) incentivize them to use their majority power responsibly.

In sum, I would rather have a political system where each party took turns trying their best to solve the country’s problems and getting what they want instead of our current system whether neither party hardly ever gets what it wants. I wish the Republicans well in their attempt to improve our society.

That being said, I am terribly troubled and saddened that Donald Trump is the person that the United States people and system have selected to serve as our head of state. As I described above, the head of state is supposed to ceremonially represent the values and “spirit of the nation” to the country as well as the world community.

What does it say about our society that we have selected Mr. Trump as the person to represent our values, culture, and traditions? What does it say about us as Americans that the person representing us to the world (and back to ourselves) is someone who regularly and unabashedly resorted to blatant racism, sexism, and misogyny during his campaign for president? What message does it send to our daughters (and sons for that matter!) that the person giving the annual State of the Union address for the next 4-8 years smugly confessed to sexual assault? What does it say about our values that enough of us citizens were willing to tolerate elevating someone who unapologetically mocked a disabled reporter and trolled a Gold Star family on Twitter as the person to best represent the values of the American people?

Personally, I think it reflects very poorly on us as a people, society, and nation. To be honest, it makes me feel embarrassed and ashamed. The American star is shining a little dimmer right now. We as Americans are better than this.

Now, no politician is a saint. They all have their shortcomings, flaws, and weaknesses. But Mr. Trump’s personal choices and values are far beyond what we as a country have traditionally been willing to accept in our political candidates.

Also, I wish to strongly emphasize that this is not a partisan judgment. I would not be saying this if Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, or John Kasich had been elected, for instance. I am encouraged that Paul Ryan will likely keep his job as Speaker of the House as I see him as a person of great intelligence and personal integrity. I hope that he will exert a good deal of influence on the future of the Republican Party which, on the whole, I believe to be good and honorable and committed to liberal democratic values.

Unfortunately, I can’t in good conscience say the same about President-elect Trump. While I of course recognize him as the legitimately-selected president, I am discouraged about what this says about the American people who elected him and the values that we reflect to each other and the rest of the world.

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