At the end of your previous piece, you brought up three very well-known Presidents of the United States – Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It’s easy to see why these three men are so legendary in American history. Jefferson was a Founding Father, Lincoln lead the country through the Civil War, and Roosevelt did the same during World War II and the Great Depression. The actions taken by these men – both before and during their presidencies – have elevated them to a near-deity level status in the Pantheon of quintessential American figures.
However, they all, as you pointed out, also stepped outside the established boundaries of the presidency. Not only do we mostly ignore their massive overextensions of executive power, but I’d be willing to guess that most Americans celebrate these actions and their positive outcomes – if they know about them at all. Now, I can’t say that I disagree with these specific cases, as all of them either helped shape America into what it is today or saved the Union altogether. However, I don’t like the idea of presidents having carte blanche over the powers and actions of the federal government either permanently or in times of crises.
But we’ve already discussed the idea of the Imperial President at length, so I’ll let that aspect of this piece remain where it rests. Instead, I want to look at a much more ethereal topic: the American Spirit.
At first, the connection between the three presidents listed above and the idea of the American Spirit may seem puzzling, but I think it’s rather straight forward. We, as Americans, seem to have a revolutionary urge inherently within us, which manifests itself in the forms of discontent, patriotic ferocity, and civil disobedience. The first steps toward the establishment of our country left behind bloody footprints, as our Revolutionary War for independence broke us free from British bondage.
So, it’s no surprise – at least from my perspective – that three of our most revered presidents were men of maverick tendencies. Now, to someone like you or me, the disregard for the granted Constitutional powers of the presidency may be troubling, even when it’s necessary. It’s not the decisions that were made that worry us, as you rightly stated that Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt were completely justified in executing these actions at the time. But, it’s instead what those necessary decisions mean in terms of setting the precedent for future decisions.
However, it would seem that the average American prefers, and even craves, a maverick president. I admit that this could be the result of many Americans not thinking out the possible repercussions of independent executive action, but I think it goes deeper than that. It goes back to the American Spirit, and how we look at our leaders and iconic figures. Those men and women that we look up to the most in the United States are – more times than not – rule breakers, rebels, and revolutionaries. And I think that trend continues throughout contemporary American life and politics.
We can see it in the results of both the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections. While many would see Donald Trump and Barack Obama as polar opposites – which they are in many cases – that’s not the consensus amongst voters who voted for both men in their respective elections. In focus groups done by the Democratic Party following the 2016 election, they interviewed Obama voters that then voted for Trump. When asked why they did so, they said that they saw Obama and Trump as both representing change for America. Not only did they represent change, but they were outsiders; a sharp deviation from the initial favored front-runners in 2008 and 2016.
What we can see in these voters is the strong American desire to break the mold of conventional wisdom and business as usual. Such conventional wisdom during the 2016 Election was that Bernie Sanders was vastly inferior to Hilary Clinton in terms of his chances of winning the General Election. However, he was able to do something she couldn’t do with all the money and party support in the world – capture the American Spirit within his voters. He led an insurrectionist campaign during the Democratic primary, and gave Clinton an unexpected fight for the nomination.
An outright socialist gained significant traction in an American presidential campaign. That’s absolutely stunning, as most people – like myself – probably thought such a thing was impossible. In my eyes, this isn’t because large swaths of Americans are ready to embrace Marx, and tear up the foundations of the United States’ bourgeois capitalist society. I’m sure some do, but not the majority. Sanders got – and continues to get – the kind of support and loyalty that he did because he started a revolution.
And, while I may have less-than-stellar feelings toward him, the same can be said for Trump. Trumpism isn’t a political philosophy, it’s a movement. It’s a movement which makes an important promise that resonates with the very core of the American Spirit: the promise to take the establishment, and burn it all to the ground. It’s for this reason that Trump not only won the presidency, but continues to hold a tight grip on his devoted voter base. Even though he’s currently president and resides in the White House – making him the very definition of “the man” and the establishment – he still embodies the maverick qualities that his voters were attracted to.