All Commentary
Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Should I Teach My Kids to Respect the Office of the Presidency?

Presidents don't deserve respect, son, people do

Though I see it as a moral responsibility to respect the dignity and rights of all people, I cannot deny I have developed a general contempt for those who work in politics. Though such people may be personally pleasant, charming, and even moral, politics has a way of making good people do horrible things. Most people in politics deserve a firm spanking as punishment for their reckless behavior, but, unfortunately, I think they would enjoy it. As political junkies, they are too experienced in delivering and receiving punishments for there to be any effect.

Politics has a way of making good people do horrible things.There are, however, always exceptions to any rule. Occasionally, a politician does earn my admiration for what he says in the political arena. Take, for instance, Thomas Gore. He was a blind lawyer and populist U.S. Senator from the early 20th century who gave us one of the most moving anti-war statements of all time, channeling Shakespeare: “I tell you mothers now – I will never rob your cradles to feed the dogs of war.”

Senator Gore was also the grandfather of Gore Vidal, and given the way Vidal spoke of his grandpapa, Thomas Gore’s love for and influence over his grandson must have been remarkable. In his memoir, Palimpsest, Vidal recalled an ironic line his grandfather would often deliver: “Never have children, only grandchildren,” which would later be changed to the more misanthropic, “Be not fruitful, do not multiply.” Though I only just stumbled across this advice, I find my life has been lived in accordance with it. I am a bachelor, I have no children, and this has mostly been by design.

Yet, as my years continue to pass me by, I find myself yielding more and more to my paternal instincts. I see my friends who now have families, and it leads me to think how wonderful, awe-inspiring, and humbling it would be to have a child of my own. Where before I had an aversion to conversations over parenting, I now find my interest piqued. I more and more understand why hackneyed political slogans such as “We must do this for the children” still carry so much currency in the political culture despite their overuse. I now listen intently to parents and grandparents describe how they are raising their children and grandchildren in such a tumultuous world.

It’s a Mad, Mad World

And what a mad, mad world it is, especially with regard to our presidential politics. The talk radio airwaves I tend to listen to every day are abuzz with piss and vinegar. The two major parties’ nominees are the most disliked candidates in modern American history, and, accordingly, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are both apt targets for a disgruntled and divided America’s scorn and derision. The 2016 election has become a test of wits in the art of smears and throwing shade—not just for the candidates themselves, but for their followers as well.

The American people are told (or tell themselves) they must vote for either Clinton or Trump out of respect for the office, despite both candidates’ faults. Donald Trump has been described as a racist, a fascist, a threat to our democracy, and a money-grubbing villain. Even the ghostwriter of the “The Art of the Deal” now says if he were writing a book on Trump today, he would call it “The Sociopath.” Hillary Clinton has been called a liar, a witch, a word that rhymes with witch, a crook, a murderer, an enabler of her husband’s sexual predations, and branded by Britain’s Boris Johnson as “a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital.”

And this is, by no means, an exhaustive list of what the people think of Trump and Clinton. Just peruse social media groups and comments sections, and you will have your proof. Nor are these accusations against Clinton and Trump necessarily untrue. Yet, despite all their personal shortcomings and gaudy ambitions, the American people are told (or at least tell themselves) they must choose between the two out of respect for the office.

So, who will win this battle of the despicables? Despicable-he or despicable-she? Well, only time will tell whether Hillary or Trump has better mobilized their minions, their respective troll armies, in their race to the bottom of the presidential barrel, but of this we can be certain – the victory will be bittersweet with dishonor, to say the least.

What About the Children?

That said, in the midst of 2016’s sound and fury, a concern about the effects of all this invective has been raised. It was recently brought to my attention by a radio caller, a mother, who told me she had been raised by her father to respect the office of Presidency no matter who resided in the White House. Her concern was this – given the degree to which so many people have become utterly disrespectful towards Bush, Obama, Clinton, Trump, and the like, how could she possibly teach her own child to respect the Office of the Presidency?

She seemed genuine in her concern, genuinely worried her child would come to distrust the very institution she was raised to revere. Hearing her worry, I could not help but think seriously of what I would teach my future children. Again, I usually hold nothing but contempt for politicians, even presidents, yet I wondered: am I wrong to feel this way? Is this truly the example I wish to set for my children?

In a word, yes.

Most people have it backwards. They should respect the President, not the Presidency.Most people have this whole matter of hating the president but respecting the office backwards. I would rather we love the human being and disdain the power of the office. I have a theory – most of the disrespectful vitriol directed towards American presidents is not produced by a general contempt for the Presidency itself, but by an unhealthy, partisan, and unrequited lust for presidential power. The people worship the office only to damn anyone from the wrong party who dares to occupy it.

This worship of the presidential chair is one of the most egregious aspects of American political culture. The cult of personality surrounding the nation’s top executive office waxes and wanes in its fervor depending on the person in power, but what remains constant is a foolish belief in the power of one person to represent, lead, administer, placate, ingratiate, mislead, murder, steal, defraud, and overall act like a clever ass in the name of the people – that is, the president is expected to perform all those actions necessary for ruling over a nation.

This belief is held in common across the political spectrum. Competition between factional interests for presidential power perfects the office’s pageantry and further increases the power of the executive branch. The president’s party usually defends him without regard for the integrity of their minds or dignity, whereas the opposition party, despite their barbed attacks and full frontal assaults on the person in power, rarely questions the power of the office itself, for their opposition is an envious sort of lust.

Accordingly, the power, prestige, and mythology surrounding the office of the Presidency has slowly been exalted to the point of deification with all the trappings one would expect within a charlatan-led religious setting. George Washington may have personally been an honorable man, but it is certainly a lie to suggest he never told a lie. Yet, starting with Washington and carrying on through Lincoln to FDR to Reagan to Obama, the mythos of the Presidency has only continued to grow, as the people rack their brains every four years over who should serve as the next demigod role model for their children and the nation as a whole.

If only we could see ourselves as everyday people and stop worshipping at the altar of the Presidency.And this brings us to how I answered our radio mother. Despite her respect for the office of the Presidency, I told her I would not teach my children to respect the office. I will teach my children to first respect themselves, and then I will teach them the golden rule in regard to others, no matter if the person they are dealing with is homeless on the street or a President in the Oval. I will teach my children to respect people’s rights and equal dignity, not their positions of power. Presidents do not deserve our respect, son, people do.

If only we could see ourselves as everyday people and stop worshiping at the altar of the Presidency, we and our children would be the better for it, no matter how topsy-turvy the world may become. I say it is high time we hold Presidential power and the effect it has on good people in contempt rather than idealizing the office. Despite my life being a model of Thomas Gore’s advice up to this point – be not fruitful, do not multiply – I hope that one day I will be able to teach my own children these very lessons.