For a moment, let’s forget Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. Wind the clock back to 1929. The stock market crashed and the nation fell into the Great Depression. Millions of families struggled for survival. What did the presidency mean then, during the worst crisis in American history? What must people have thought about Hoover or FDR as they stood hours in line for a bowl of soup?
In that era, the president must have been a position that dedicated itself to serve the people, not serving itself. It must have taken a person who saw what was happening to the people and lead them, restore them, care for them. But in 2016, the presidency does not seem to mean the same thing. After witnessing so much mudslinging at last Monday’s presidential debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, it should provoke much thought on whether or not the two nominees appreciate the gravity of the position they seek. The honor that the presidency used to bestow has become gray and moth-eaten as the culture surrounding politics is turning more and more into a circus rather than a circle of intellect. French political scientist Alexis De Tocqueville must be rolling in his grave as American democracy experiences heartbreaking disdain, neglect and insult from we the people.
No, Mrs. Clinton, being president does not mean you get to push your agenda using shady deals. No, Mr. Trump, being president is not a tool to bully your opponents. No, to anyone out there thinking about being president -— it’s not a way to immortalize yourself and finally “make it” in life. The presidency is not about you. An agenda is an agenda — not the end itself. But to the dismay of so many of us, when you think of the word “president,” you think of someone who’s pushing their personal ambitions just to show that they can. People keep saying the political system in America is stupid, broken, inefficient, gridlocked every time something good tries to pass. Two-party politics has paralyzed anything meaningful from happening in the domestic agenda or foreign policy. Congressmembers make more of a living pulling stupid stunts on television rather than actually asking what their districts or states want.
The Oval Office used to seat men who valued character over party politics. But character is the last word many people think of when they see the two nominees running for president right now. Both candidates love popularity. But there is a difference between popularity and legacy. Legacy is why we still admire John Adams, Abraham Lincoln and FDR long past their lifetimes. People will have perennial respect for these men not only because of what they did, but also because of how they did it. The job of the president isn’t to be a sociopathic utilitarian political machine. It demands leadership, not sound bites. Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump, why do you want to run for president? Is it because you care about the American people? Do you intend to serve? This is what serving looks like: surrendering a seat of honor, putting others before yourself, loving others more than yourself, to be okay going unrecognized, to constantly seek the counsel of those around you, especially those who will criticize you. It demands a kind of humility usually unseen in Washington. It’s the kind of humility every parent teaches their children in the hope that they will learn what we could not.
The presidency is the highest position in the land, one that was meant to be fulfilled by men and women nominated for their intelligence, wisdom and above all, unchallenged character. However, despite all that has been said, it is not the opinion of this piece to poise a dark, pessimistic outlook. The United States has an amazingly resilient political system. It has a long future ahead. Yet, this is about restoring the diminished honor that once cloaked the office of executive. It’s time for selfless service to make a welcome return to the office of the President of the United States.