Do you remember your first time? When you’re young, there is so much nervous energy and youthful curiosity in anticipation leading up to the day it finally occurs. My first time, like most of you, was disappointing. It involved somebody on the older side — 66, to be exact. It happened in a rec center gym. And it didn’t last very long — five minutes, tops. When it was over, I was surprised at how underwhelming and unfulfilled I felt by what just happened.
Yes, casting my first vote for president just wasn’t as amazing as I originally thought it would be. (Wait. Did you think I meant…? Sinner.)
I know it seems silly to talk about presidential elections now that this most recent iteration is finally — FINALLY! — over. However, since the gap between presidential elections seems to become smaller, there’s no time like the present for my thesis: Our obsession with the White House is misguided and the presidency is vastly overrated.
Every election, the nation divides into two teams in an inescapable race to the bottom. And this competition becomes increasingly brutal with each subsequent election. What was once an honorable spar between respective pugilists has turned into a new version of MMA that allows biting, weapons, and audience participation.
Also becoming a strange recurring theme is the rise in cults of personality. Whoever is your team captain is also your duly appointed Lord and Savior, while the opposing team captain is basically Satan. When we lionize or demonize politicians, we give them more credit — and truck flags — than they deserve.
At best, presidents are imperfect, featherless bipeds, just like you and me. (That said, tarring and feathering might make elections more palatable.)
Even our most revered presidents had their lowlights. Reagan had Iran-Contra. JFK had his extramarital affairs. Theodore Roosevelt dabbled in race-based eugenics, which means that it is only a matter of time before the Teddy Bear is the next target of cancel culture.
Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, a sacrosanct legal institution that codifies the right to trial for all accused persons and — as I learned while researching for this piece — translates to “show me the body” in Latin. Bet you can’t say that translation without sounding like Jerry Maguire shouting into a phone.
And then there’s Franklin D. Roosevelt. What amazes me is the left’s obsession about this guy. Considering the amount of foreign minorities caged, refugees denied entry, trade wars initiated, and nuclear-weapon-fueled global instability that occurred because of FDR, you’d think that Trump would have been an easier sell to progressives.
The only president who didn’t royally mess things up was William Henry Harrison, who died 33 days into office. His biggest mistake: delivering a 90-minute inaugural speech in the bitter cold. If only Zoom was an option for Harrison, there’s no telling what kind of benign legacy he could have left behind.
We have exalted the presidency to the point that it undermines the intended architecture of government designed by our Founding Fathers. A quick glance at the Constitution will reveal that the most prominently featured branch of government is not the executive (Article 2), but rather the legislative (Article 1). There’s a sizable disparity in the job descriptions for both: Article 1 is nearly double the length of Article 2. Though I don’t intend to send your minds back to the gutter, but size matters.
Congress is supposed to be the primary driver, while the president takes a backseat. What we see nowadays looks less like driving and more like an ice-covered Texas highway: a lot of noise, mayhem, and sensationalist sound bites — all resulting in zero movement forward and taxpayers footing the bill.
Increasingly, presidents rule via executive orders (EOs), while Congress kicks the metaphorical can down the literally crumbling infrastructure. As a result, nothing lasting occurs because all presidential orders can be easily reversed by the ensuing administration. Everything he can EO, the next guy can EO better.
When we obsess about the presidency, we lose sight of federalism. For every political platitude — from “reopen the economy” to “defund the police” — is a president who is powerless to do anything about it. And thank your respective Lord, Savior, or cult leader that the feds aren’t in charge of everything.
What broadly influences our day-to-day lives are decisions made at the state and local levels. In preparation for the 2024 election, let’s invest our energy locally. While we rage online about national politics, attendance at our school board meetings and city council hearings are abysmally low. If you haven’t ever experienced the thrill of local government, do yourself the favor and sign up for citizen comments at city hall. It will be another first time that you won’t soon forget.
Jay Stooksberry is a writer and editor based in Delta, Colorado. His writing is available at www.jaystooksberry.com.