Last Monday, we celebrated President’s Day, a holiday marked on the third Monday in February commemorating George Washington’s birthday on February 22nd. On President’s Day, we honor all presidents, not just Washington, but everyone from Washington to Trump. In this time of turmoil, where people on different sides of the political spectrum refuse to listen to the other, it is important to remember why we honor the Office of President of the United States.
When our founding fathers met in 1787, there was great disagreement over what our government would look like, who would rule it, and how big it should be. Anti-federalists showed up in Philadelphia under the impression that they were merely amending the already-existing unicameral legislative government outlined in the Articles of Confederation. Federalists showed up with their own ideas of what the United States government should look like, completely independent of the Articles of Confederation. Some, like Hamilton, even argued for an inherited executive position held for life, especially, a king.
George Washing by no means wanted to be a king. He embodied the ideal leadership expected of a president: establishing federal supremacy while nevertheless acting with restraint whenever the situation called for it. He recognized that the job of the Presidency was too great a responsibility for any one person, and thus created a cabinet of advisers, a tradition that is still upheld today. He was not only able to work with Congress to pass legislation that laid the foundation of our capital city, but was able to do it through compromise. Even those who disagreed with him respected his office and the sacrifices that he made in multiple wars that led to the creation of the great American experiment.
Since then, we have had forty-four presidents, each making their marks on history in ways both subtle and significant. Some presidents, such as William Henry Harrison and (rather unfortunately) James Garfield, are known for holding the office for such a short amount of time. Others, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, are known for guiding the United States through times of turmoil and rising above the circumstances they were placed in. Only one president, James K. Polk, fulfilled every single one of his campaign promises. Others, such as Calvin Coolidge, barely left behind little more than a few sentences in our history books.
The presidency, like every position of leadership, is as complicated as it is demanding. Not only must the president represent every man, woman, and child in the United States when signing bills into legislation, but the president represents every American, from the forests of Hawaii to the coasts of South Carolina. The president must uphold decades-old commitments, all the while analyzing when it is appropriate to break free of tradition.
When I was tasked with writing an editorial on the presidency and what it means to us in 2017 America, I knew that I was given the opportunity to offer my two cents on Trump’s presidency thus far. Anyone remotely close to me knows that I am not a fan of his politics, policies, attitude, and vision for the future of this great nation; however, I don’t want to be partisan here, especially when we seem to live in a time where no one wants to listen to anyone who disagrees with them, I fear that giving my raw opinion would turn away many of our beloved readers.
On the contrary, I want to offer my two cents on how any president, Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or Socialist, should approach this formidable line of work. A president should approach every day seeking to improve the lives of every American, not just the people who voted for representatives of a particular party. A president should welcome counsel from highly trained and hard-working department heads who can offer the Executive Branch more detailed information than any one person sitting at the resolute desk could fully comprehend. A president should make decisions based partly on personal judgment, but also on verifiable statistics, evidence, and facts. A president should work with other branches of government to create meaningful and far-reaching legislation at every opportunity available, especially when both chambers of Congress are willing to work with the Executive. Most importantly, a president should never use the Office to put personal needs over the needs of the American people.
It is a trope that the best leaders are first followers. Let us never forget that is especially the case in democratic institutions, where we, the people, are the employers. The best presidents listen to the people and use their power for good. Let us hope our current president and all future presidents uphold that sacred duty.