President Obama lays the case for why Americans reject "being ruled."
Shortly after he was elected president in 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, many leading American voices (including respected newspaper columnists) called for Franklin Roosevelt to receive the powers of a dictator. It’s odd to consider today, but the calls were strong and not at all rare during that time.
Roosevelt rejected these calls. Though he did expand the power of the presidency in significant ways, he left intact the checks and balances that limited his office through legislative and judicial powers that were instituted in the U.S. Constitution.
Indeed, Roosevelt didn’t always get his way — the U.S. Supreme Court often decided against many elements of his New Deal plan in the first two terms of his presidency, and even the friendly Congress that passed many of his proposals forced him to amend other ideas before garnering their approval.
In his speech to Democratic delegates at his party’s convention Wednesday night, current President Barack Obama made an eloquent case for why Americans should once again reject authoritarianism in the White House.
One line stood out to me more so than any other: “We are not a fragile or frightful people,” the president said. “Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order. We don’t look to be ruled.” (Emphasis in bold mine)
Indeed our American founders urged against a lifetime presidency or otherwise dictatorial powers for the president because they knew that an all-powerful executive would be dangerous. Some founders, like Virginia’s George Mason, even suggested a multiple-person presidency, and advocated for a one-term per president rule for whoever entered the office.
Certainly that view didn’t win the day — but the idea of a presidency with checks and balances, held at bay by other governing authorities, was adopted by the Constitutional Convention.
Today, that view is threatened more so than at any other point in our history because of one dangerous candidate for office: Donald Trump. And it seems his supporters back his calls for letting him and his plans for “Making America Great Again” through to the White House.
I am convinced that Trump’s ego would implore him to seek out new ways to destroy our American democracy. Listen to his speeches for the evidence. I am left with the impression that, while he makes grandiose promises to his audiences, he’s more concerned with what ways he can advance his own path rather than what can he can do to help the American people. In short, he says he can fix all of the nation’s ills…if we just let him do what he wants, no questions asked.
There will always be calls from some to promote an authoritarian leader. People called on Roosevelt to become such a leader during a desperate time in our nation. But Roosevelt showed true leadership when he rejected those calls.
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There are calls from some in Trump’s camp for him to become a hardlined leader should he win the presidency. Consider what his response would be — can you trust Trump to reject those calls as FDR did eighty years ago? I know I can’t.