The current president of the United States has turned the expectations of presidential action and behavior on their head. Over all of our lifetimes, we have watched our Presidents in action. Most of the time, they have behaved in ways that seemed presidential to us. At other times, they definitely behaved in ways we thought were demeaning of the office.
In their terrific text “Unmaking the Presidency” Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes note that “The Constitution doesn’t describe much about what a modern-day president should actually do” (1). For the most part, there are few rules and regulations that control a given presidents actions while in office. “The expectations of the modern presidency are extra-constitutional grafts onto the Constitutions’ bare-bones model, some of them early, some of the surprisingly recent. Some contain statutory elements, but many of them are simply a reflection of developed public expectation over time.” (2) In plain English, the President of the United States can pretty much do as he pleases until someone figures out a way to stop him.
To be totally honest, the lack of restraint on certain actions by the President of the United States is disturbing to me to say the least. As I watch President Trump behave like he always does, I want there to be some law, some rule or overriding principle that constrains him. I want him to stop. The truth is, he doesn’t have to and he knows it.
Our expectations of how a person who obtains the position of the most powerful person on the planet are just that. They are expectations. I hate the way he acts. I hate that he is a bully. I hate that his behavior towards people of a different race is considered racist by even the most avowed racists in the country. I hate that he gets a lot of his ideas from people at Fox News. I hate that he gives juvenile nicknames to those who oppose him. I hate that he lies constantly which leads me to believe that he knows people will believe what he has to say. (They do!) I hate the fact that he has made no effort to unite the country and only serves the 43% of the electorate he calls his “base”.
Of course there are statutes about breaking the law. But the President knows that even if he breaks the law, nothing can be done about it while he is in office. The only thing that might possibly constrain him is the fear of impeachment or being voted out of office. He is not really even afraid of actions by the highest courts in the land. He is not afraid of impeachment because he knows as long as the Senate is controlled by Conservatives, he will never be convicted in spite of the severity of his actions. Now, as we are about five months out from the election, all of his efforts are centered on one thing. All he wants is another four years in office.
This is where we as a nation have to “draw the line”. The coming election is an opportunity to repudiate every single thing about him that the majority of country dislikes. Elections involving choosing whether a sitting president gets another term are always a referendum on what the country feels about the presidents’ performance in office. The next five months will determine whether his presidency is allowed to continue or whether it will be thrown into the fire and consumed by the cruel flames of historical perspective.
To be clear, much of what this president does is contrary to expected norms that have been developed over the two plus centuries of our existence. It was ignorant on our part to expect anything different from him. This is what the country voted for, and the country is paying a steep price for it. To claim that we are surprised by the nature of this man, and his presidency, is ignorant on our part. The country got what the country voted for. The only question to ask now is “Is this what the country will vote for in November?”
(1) Unmaking The Presidency – Hennessey and Wittes (2020) pg 8.
(2.) Unmaking the Presidency – Hennessey and Wittes (2020) pg 9.