Hilary Hodge: Our next president: Does it matter?
September 26, 2016
"Does it really matter who our next president is?" My mom asked me this question casually as we were sitting in her living room going through boxes of cookbooks.
She had CNN on mute in the background. My expression must have looked mildly horrified or somewhat confused because she added, "I mean, how much power does the President of the United States of America really have?"
It was fair question. It was a question our forefathers considered not at all lightly.
The power of the President of the United States (POTUS) is nothing close to absolute. In fact, the POTUS has very little power except when it comes to vetoing bills or appointing ambassadors, justices, public ministers, or empty council seats. The POTUS is charged with commanding the military, including Army, Navy, and National Guard, but none of the presidential command is unilateral and none of it is singular. The POTUS can grant clemency, pardons, and other reprieve for offenses against the United States but, because such an action is almost always seen as political, a sitting president will usually wait until a second term and/or after an election to do so. For most of a president's term, all decisions are made by committee.
For many, a Trump presidency may validate the hateful scapegoating of Trump’s campaign speeches.
Almost all POTUS decisions require oversight. To put it another way, the actual powers of the President of the United States of America are democratic.
The power to appoint justices and ambassadors is important, to be sure. Our next president's choices will likely have long-lasting effects on our judicial system and foreign policy. Further, the amount and types of legislation that could be passed if a single party has a super majority is vast. However, the idea, for example, that a president could unilaterally repeal an amendment to the Constitution is outright false.
I did my best to explain the role of the U.S. President to my mother while also helping her decide between the 1975 version and the 1997 version of the Joy of Cooking. We argued about which one might better suit her baking needs (cookbooks, not U.S. presidents).
After a few minutes passed she asked, "Well, what do you think about this presidential election?" I let out a deep sigh.
It's not my favorite question these days. I used to think of myself as an issue voter. There was a time when a voter could weigh his or her values and pick a candidate. Today, the parties have become so divided and dogmatic that it is difficult for most people to side wholeheartedly with any one candidate.
For me, this presidential election is more important than most. When you have a candidate like Donald Trump who targets whole populations of people, belittles women, mocks the handicapped, and scapegoats entire religions and races, the election is no longer about legislation or economic policy. This presidential election is about America and our value system.
Do we, as a nation, honor diversity and uphold the values listed in historical documents like Gettysburg Address? Do we agree with our Constitution and the First Amendment, which states that there should be no laws passed which impede the free exercise of religion? These questions are at the heart of American values. These questions are central to the foundation of our identity as Americans.
The possibility of a Trump presidency and his ability to lead a nation concerns me. What concerns me more is the rhetoric he espouses and the lack of American values within his campaign and among his supporters.
In 2008, when California's Proposition 8 passed by a small majority, making same-sex marriage illegal in California, people who had hurtful attitudes toward the LGBT community were emboldened by this seeming validation of their hatred. In the months following the election my friends and I were harassed, chased, spat on, threatened and attacked. It was a backlash no community of people should have to face.
While an actual Trump presidency is problematic for many reasons, including his temperament and lack of experience, the symbolism of a Trump presidency, for me, is even worse. My fear is that a Trump presidency would have a similar effect that the passing of Prop 8 had. For many, a Trump presidency may validate the hateful scapegoating of Trump's campaign speeches.
If this presidential election were simply about a difference in approaches to economic policy and foreign affairs, then it wouldn't be so important who our next president is. But this upcoming election is about so much more than that.
Hilary Hodge lives in Grass Valley. Her column is published by The Union on Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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