George Washington wrote John Adams in 1789 that a President of the United States must “maintain the dignity of Office.”
— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) June 29, 2017
“Dignity,” that is the word that used to come to mind when discussing the Presidency of the United States. Even when we were a nation in our infancy, the perspective that was conjured up about our Founding Fathers, was one of great comportment, honor, and respect. Now that doesn’t mean that there weren’t political machinations and turmoil. That doesn’t mean there weren’t nasty items written in newspapers and rumors created to destroy a political opponent. But at no time did anyone ever hear, read or actually think that the President of the United States would discuss a woman’s veneer, bodily functions, or girth in a public forum, newspaper, or media of any kind.
And no it’s not because of twitter, or the age of social media, that the rules have been twisted, convoluted, or simply destroyed. What the age of social media has shown however, is the true and unyielding nature of a personality that is unwell, diseased, or simply beyond the bounds of all that we hold to be part of normative descent adult interactions. That social media has allowed the grotesqueness of some humans to abound isn’t the fault of the technology, it is the fault of the user. Responsibility for misuse of any advancement in our world is laid squarely on the shoulders of the person. It is called being an adult.
So no, don’t blame certain actions and attributes of those who lack decorum and class on the modern world. Technology merely opens our eyes to the reality that so many still lack emotional maturity, and contain within themselves evil intentions and sociopathic tendencies.
Moreover, there are many in our world, who are successful statesmen and women, that do not go down the rabbit hole of misogyny, racism, and hyperbole. And no I am not simply throwing those words out as if to give credence to the PC world of safespaces, trigger warnings, or snowflake denouement.
As this column always tries to discuss, words matter, and the words of the President of the United States matter more than anyone else’s on the planet. We may not like that reality, but there it is. The words emanating from the Oval Office have the ability to start a financial panic, a diplomatic crisis, or a full-blown war. Those words need to be carefully chosen. Thought must be given to them. Ideas must be discussed. Concepts must be argued. Consequences, even more than ideals, must be recognized.
We have gone from a small nation of 13 states, barely able to protect ourselves, to the beacon of world freedom. The US has a military power needed by freedom loving nations used to protect liberty from the tyrant that is just around the bend. The US, with all her problems, is the nation to which billions turn for help, support, and largesse. The US is the guidepost for those seeking a better way for the future. The President of the United States is a symbol of that freedom, of that kindness, and of that righteous indignation when humanity’s natural rights have been usurped.
That is why being “Presidential,” is more than sitting in the Oval Office. It is more than giving interviews. It is how the person comports themselves and represents this nation to the rest of the world. Dignity in argument. Dignity in distress. Dignity when impugned.
But more than anything else, being Presidential is understanding that being President is not about the person in the Oval Office. It is about the country. That is why we are taught to separate out the person from the position. We are taught to respect the Office of the Presidency, even if we do not respect the politics of the person holding that office.
Being President is not an easy job. No matter what you do, someone is always going to consider your actions wrong. It is really a thankless job, in a world that seems to need trophies for simply showing up. But if you are not adult enough to understand that there is no gold star given at the end of your day, you have no business being President.
The President of the United States, historically, has been the guidepost for our nation. He, or she (someday), should be someone that we know has the nation’s best interest at heart. He should be someone we know, who understands that being President is not about him, but about the 330 million people that live in this country. It is about how he represents us to the rest of the world, and whether we are taken seriously as a People. Above all, it is imperative that He should not make himself out to be a fool.
Dignity is knowing how to do the right thing, at the right moment, no matter what it costs you personally. Being a leader is not about you, but about those that follow you. Being President is not for those of small character, small wit, or small spine.
The issue we are faced now as a nation though, the reality of our situation, is how do we handle this absolute devaluation of one of our most sacred institutions? How do we recoup our own national purpose and national self-respect? And granted there will be those who think how the President is acting is simply fine. But you also have to ask yourself, would you invite those people into your own house for a barbecue?
Dignity, respect for others, adulting in a world which lacks cohesion and is threatened from every corner, is what we think of when we think of Presidential. Unfortunately, our President does not appear to understand boundaries, demarcations, nor does he have the ability to think beyond himself. Therefore, it is left up to We the People to take back our Presidency and to take back our country.
Remember, the President of the United States is not a monarch. He is not King. He is a servant of the people, elected to do the people’s bidding. He is only one of 3 branches of government. Congress and the judiciary are on equal footing with him. If he cannot handle the rigors of his office, if he cannot stand up and be counted among the adults in the room, it is up to the other two branches to right our national ship. And this is where our nation now falls short as well….
Congress has abrogated it’s adversarial nature and has decided to stop understanding that it is not an extension of the Presidency, but a buffer to any tyranny in the making. They have forgotten that they are not beholden to the President, but to the Constitution. They do not have to check a box, that says we agree with the President on issues, even when they are all of the same party. Congress is our bulwark against the misappropriation of our legacy. But they too are failing.
By refusing to stand up to misogyny and the abject belittlement of the Presidency, Congressional republicans too lack the dignity needed to lead this nation. There was a time, that Congress understood it’s role. It seems they no longer comprehend anything beyond the concept of power, vendettas, and the revenge of the small soul. But “We the People,” can hold them to account. It is imperative that we do.
On the other hand, there is the judiciary, all levels, from the Supreme Court on down to the tiniest town court. While many decry an “activist” court, the purpose of the judiciary is to curtail the accesses of the Executive, and the legislative. Their job is to ensure that the tyranny of the majority does not get in the way of the Constitution. The fact that courts around the nation have seen fit to challenge the Presidency, to obliterate his misappropriation of powers, to slap back his disrespect for the laws of this nation bodes well. The judiciary doesn’t have to always agree across the board on any one given issue. But the fact that it still acts as an independent arbiter is the ray of hope, in an otherwise unPresidential season.
Perhaps We, the United States, will learn our lesson. Perhaps when we see a candidate act out in such unpresidential ways, then we will understand that people do not change. That behaviors of a 70 year old man, are the behaviors he will take with him into office. We should understand that if we are to live in a kinder, gentler world, that means the person who represents us should not have gone through life as a bully, or at last have grace enough to know not to show it in public.
Meanwhile, we can still teach our own children right from wrong. Teach them about honor, duty, country and above all what it is to live a dignified, exemplary life. We can use the President as another “do not,” in a world where sadly there is no shortage of “do nots.” We merely add him and his unPresidential ways to the list.
So what happens to this nation? Who do we become? What does it portend for the future?
For those who are doomsaying, that is simply ridiculous. The USA has been though worse. A bloody Civil War comes to mind. The 1960s and that massive societal upheaval comes to mind as well. What is happening is simple. We, as a nation, are going through another bout of growing pains. And yes, these “growing pains” are painful, distressing, and so utterly embarrassing that we want to hide our heads in shame. But the reality is that we are developing a new economy, one global in its structure, fascinating, frightening and challenging, while having in charge a person without care, thought, or understanding of how the modern world works.
But as with everything in history, the ship will eventually right itself. Humanity will continue. But it is up to us, the average American, to figure out what that means for us individually and not wait for a sign from the unPresidential occupant of the Oval Office or his enablers on Capital Hill.
We ourselves, can be Presidential in thought, action, and deed on a daily basis in our own lives. Independence of action, citizenry acting correctly even though our elected officials act irresponsibly, is more than simply a requirement during times of change and challenge, it’s a necessary element if we are to meet the future head on.
And if you think I only hold Trump and the Republicans to a modicum of decency read this:
The United States and who we are as a People:
Demise of America is Premature (while this was written about Obama, simply replace Obama wth Trump when reading it)