This spring, I was honored to sail with veterans as part of the “Warrior Sailing Program” during the venerable Charleston Race Week. I met some of the most high-spirited young women and men you can imagine, and no matter if they lost their eyesight, a leg, or got shot several times, they demonstrated dignity and a positive attitude I sometime miss among their more self-absorbed peers. If their smiles and can-do attitude could resolve conflicts, then this is all it would take to make this a more peaceful planet! It could be reasoned that their sacrifices have made this a better world or made America a safer place, but the question that came to my mind is how much say did these young citizens have in deciding how invading Afghanistan and Iraq was going to benefit us?
I never felt it was a good idea to give the office of American presidency so much influence on the mood of the nation and important decisions that will bear consequences for generations to come. It can be reasoned that the founding fathers did not intend the president to be the strongest branch of government and tried to prevent the gradual shift of power to the office of the president via executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements, which give the modern presidency an almost monarchist feel.
I know for my part I would prefer the joint chiefs of staff recommend if we should enter any armed conflicts or occupy foreign countries rather than combine the role of president with the responsibility of being Commander in Chief of the armed forces. These senior generals are professionals, trained to assess risk appropriately while adhering to the highest ethical standards and they would not unnecessarily squander the lives of our troops or that of civilians.
If we had direct democracy, the equivalent of the American presidency would be an executive council with several members where majority rule applies. If we had a multi-party system, the members of the council could represent different parties, which would ensure that the voices and diversity of all citizens are represented. The two-party system has now, for many years, proven that instead of enabling long-term thinking and planning, thus benefitting the entire nation, Congress is too often engulfed in short-term political gain. This is a dangerous situation that diminishes our ability to be the leading voice of the free world and one which world powers like China are fully exploiting.
I have no illusion that the American voter will anytime soon experience the advantages of direct democracy, but at least Congress and the courts could roll back the power of the highest office to a balanced level and, over time, it would be worth it to redefine the role of the President and let Congress do what they are elected to do.
Maybe it is the media’s fault, who seem to merely critique whomever is in office instead of truly educating the electorate and offering real alternatives or advocating for change of the political system. The voters should share some blame as well for going along with the cult of personality surrounding the president, expecting him or her to be the superhero for four years with the power to raise their salaries, keep foreign powers at bay, make schools great, deliver an accessible and affordable healthcare system, bring freedom and democracy to the world, and protect consumers from hidden bank charges…
Does asking for too much, and too quickly, from one branch get in the way of clarity on decisions and long-term thinking? How can we ask more of the media and of ourselves so that the system of government is properly balanced between the executive, congressional and judicial branches?
These are questions worth pondering now. And stop believing that the next election will change everything for the better. As a nation, we could do better if we had a form of government better aligned with our true capabilities.
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