It’s Only POTUS

Michael Brendan Dougherty echoes the point that presidential elections are destroying America (and so we should let Congress pick POTUS):

The length of our presidential campaign atrophies self-governance. Instead of citizens governing themselves, Americans increasingly define their political lives by their membership in one tribe, and their support for its candidates. Instead of electing a leader, we pledge fealty as followers.

The bulk of our attention flows to the presidential race. And because there is so much attention there, the process attracts candidates who are merely seeking attention for themselves and not high office. In fact, that may be why the primaries feel more and more like reality television, and produced a reality TV president. Each debate is a new episode, and the political press waits for the latest news about which contestant is eliminated.

Because our mode of engaging with politics feels tribal, and because the process takes two years, many people experience it as a crushing psychological and social blow to be on the losing side. Citizens who identify with the losing presidential candidate feel like they are no longer a part of their country. They experience the transfer of the executive branch from one party to the other as a regime change that threatens them. Remember the red and blue maps of Jesusland and America that appeared during the Bush administration? Back then there was heady talk of Vermont seceding from the union to become a bastion of tolerance. Fast forward a few years, and conservatives were the ones spreading stories about Texas’ secession. This is not healthy. But it’s going to continue if we don’t begin to tame the presidential election itself.

The presidential election increases our sense that all issues are national issues. Even people who say they are addicted to politics often have no idea what is happening in their state or county government.

Dougherty adds a point that Aaron Sorkin, the creator of Jed Bartlet, the POTUS on West Wing, should take to heart:

One cause for the gigantism of our presidential election is the gigantism of the executive branch. The federal government employs more than 2 million people in the process of governing us.

Too bad that Sorkin doesn’t seem to recognize the monster that he fed (even if he did not create). His letter to his wife and daughters was typically hysterical (thanks to one of our southern correspondents):

White nationalists. Sexists, racists and buffoons. Angry young white men who think rap music and Cinco de Mayo are a threat to their way of life (or are the reason for their way of life) have been given cause to celebrate. Men who have no right to call themselves that and who think that women who aspire to more than looking hot are shrill, ugly, and otherwise worthy of our scorn rather than our admiration struck a blow for misogynistic s‑‑‑heads everywhere.

But if POTUS were little more than a glorified dog catcher, would the stakes be so high?

7 thoughts on “It’s Only POTUS

  1. You have the union card in history, DGH, but hasn’t American’s tribal identification with one particular party or another been even stronger than it is now? One of the striking things to me in reading historians like Gienapp, Holt, etc., Who have written about the history of political parties in America is how few citizens there were who were unaffiliated with a party. Elections could be heartbreakingly close, and keeping your sides voters enthused was basically how you ran a campaign -.think “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too”, the “Wide Awakes”, etc. Appealing to undecideds was not given much priority.
    Today, the focus is on the Presidency, and certainly the increased powers of the office have a lot to do with that. But the party system developed against a background, post Jackson, of virtually constant going to the polls for elections for one office or another, local, state and federal. And they were all hard fought and vitriolic – with stunningly high (white male) participation rates.

    Maybe MBD should just admit he doesn’t care for popular democracy. Heck, I don-t either, but I learned to live with it long ago.


  2. Dougherty made some valid points about tribalism and authoritarianism vs self-government. I would also add that there are a number of polarizations in our nation including political, race-based, and economic class based ones.


  3. Dan, Yes, political partisanship has a history. But what makes our times different is the identification of the academy, journalists, and the entertainment industry with one of those parties. That makes it hard to leave politics.


  4. Dan,

    Trump did not win the endorsements of powerful media outlets or sparkly celebrities–or much of anyone for that matter. And more than any race in modern memory, his election was a victory of the grassroots over the political establishment.

    Can Sorkin make a television series about Trump?


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