What a President Is — and Isn’t

By Eleonora di Liscia

In 1992, Wendy Kaminer wrote I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional, a book about the self-help movement.  In it, she opined that the country viewed national policy through the prism of self-help culture.  The Gulf War made us feel good.  Vietnam was kind of a bummer.

I believe that Donald Trump’s candidacy is an extension of this phenomenon.  When I hear him on the news, I imagine his followers shouting: “Yeah! You tell them! Right on!”  They like Trump because he “tells it like it is.”  He expresses their own feelings for them.

Unfortunately, some of us on the left are not immune to this phenomenon.  To those who complain that President Obama hasn’t taken the bully pulpit often enough, I reply, “Would you rather he got something done or that he just bloviate about it?”

You see, a President’s job isn’t to vent for you.  You want validation? Listen to your favorite talk show host. Perhaps that is Rush Limbaugh’s sole redeeming value.  He’s a mirror in which the ignorant can admire their own reflections.

If only it stopped there.  But now we have Trump.

When it comes to choosing a President, it’s not all about you and how you feel. It’s about what’s good for all us citizens of the world, which is a lesson Trump supporters do not want to understand.

So what does or doesn’t make a President?

A President is a leader.  That sounds totally, unbelievably obvious, but somehow Republicans generally miss this simple point. We do not mean a leader in the sense that he or she has the top job.  We mean someone who leads by making thoughtful and important decisions and serving as a role model—someone who thinks about consequences before speaking and, mindful of those consequences, chooses words carefully.

In short, we mean someone who acts like a grown-upbabytrump

Does that sound like Trump?  Or Senator Ted Cruz?

A President has to represent EVERYONE in the country, not just the people who elected him or her. So while you may be disappointed about not getting what you want, the President has an obligation to arrive at the best compromise to make the most people happy over the long term. He or she does not pander solely to the most extreme elements of the base.

A President tries to deescalate volatile situations, not throw gasoline on the fire.  Last November, Russian war planes entered Syria. Ever ready to send our kids to die, Republicans clamored to shoot the planes down. Fortunately, that so-called elitist, policy wonk Barack Obama is still in charge. The President refused to directly confront the Russians and the situation stabilized. In March, the planes were leaving Syria, sparking hopes for peace talks.

A President does not encourage people to gratify his own feelings by sucker-punching people he doesn’t like.  He or she does not rave about Muslims and Mexicans or any other ethnic or religious group.  She or he thinks about the consequences of raving and seeks a nuanced solution to problems like ISIS.  While the bull in the china shop approach may feel good at first, we wouldn’t be dealing with ISIS now if “W” hadn’t felt the need to vent his own feelings by bombing Saddam Hussein on the way to rooting Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan.

A President has to put up with people who ask tough questions.  He or she does not whine about that “unfair” female reporter on Fox News with the “blood coming out of her whatever.” A President faces the tough questions. Witness Bill O’Reilly’s 2014 Super Bowl interview with President Obama. The President remained gracious despite O’Reilly’s congenital inability to let him finish a sentence.

A President deals with slights to his or her ego—no matter how numerous and nasty.  A President neither sweats the small stuff nor indulges in personal vendettas.

Trump is easily slighted, and his puerile attacks against everyone who pricks his Hindenburg-sized ego are legion. Is that what we want in a President? Someone who worries more about payback than solving the country’s problems?  By contrast, Barack Obama has held the high ground despite the incredible amount of abuse heaped on him by the Right, never losing his cool, never belittling or stooping to petty attacks.

A President does not boast to the nation about his member.

A President wants the job, not just the position.  As President, you get a tsunami of attention and status.  But being President is not just about having a world forum to stoke your vanity.  It’s an overwhelmingly hard job involving loads of information to absorb, loads of crises to resolve, and loads less power than you thought you’d have to deal with it all. Does Trump really want to sit down and pore over policy briefings? Somehow, I doubt it.  By contrast, one could imagine Barack Obama doing the work even if nobody knew who he was.

A President is not a dictator.  Again, you would think this was totally, unbelievably obvious.  Unfortunately, even some on the Left have trouble with this one.

In brief, our Founding Fathers were worried about concentrated power, so they devised a system of checks and balances.  The President enforces the law and sets policy, but Congress passes laws and has the power of the purse.  The Supreme Court ensures that the other two branches abide by the Constitution—or will if a Democratic President appoints Justice Scalia’s successor.  Perhaps not if the country embarrasses itself by electing Trump or Cruz.

In sum, a President keeps us moving down the right track. A President does not send us hurtling into the abyss.  If it’s a President Trump or Cruz, you might want to brush up on Dante’s Inferno so you’re prepared for the ride.

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