Abolishing the US presidency would not just be good for Americans, but good for everybody else, too.
It’s time to abolish the US presidency. If there is any lesson from the last 20 years the world can learn, it’s that the office of the presidency has become one of the most dangerous institutions on the planet, both to Americans and everyone else.
It’s possible to still have a person who is in charge of things the US government does, but the sweeping powers of the presidency should not be in the hands of a single human being. It doesn’t matter to which American political party that person belongs, or what values they say they hold on the campaign trail. The presidency itself is the problem.
Comedy is America’s doomsday bunker, the refuge in which its citizens have been able to weather crises big and small. Last month, Chris Rock, in his opening monologue on the return Saturday Night Live’s new love shows, outlined some glaring problems.
He did not express excitement about US President Donald Trump’s challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden potentially winning the office, as polls suggest. But rather that Biden’s term should represent an end of era of US presidents.
‘’I think we need to renegotiate our relationship to the government. Does it work? I think Joe Biden should be the last president ever. We need a whole new system. Do we need a president president? Or just figure out a new way to do the job. What job do you have for four years no matter what. If you hired a cook and he was making people vomit everyday, do you sit there and say ‘He’s got a four year deal, we just gotta vomit for four more years.’’’
Rock continued by criticising how the legislature works. Members of the US lower house, called representatives or congresspeople, serve for two year terms. Senators serve for six years. They can be in office indefinitely. A challenger trying to unseat a senator must raise millions and millions of dollars to have a shot at doing so.
“The senate and congress does it work? It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because they need term limits. We’ve agreed in the United States that we cannot have kings. But we’ve got dukes and duchesses in the congress making decisions for poor people. Rich people making decisions for poor people. That’s like your handsome friend giving you dating advice.’’
Democracy and the White House
Reforming congress is a topic for a different article, but Rock’s characterisation of the senate as a collection of ‘’dukes and duchesses’’ speaks to the problems with the executives. Rather than having a head of government, Americans now have a God-King for hire. And with technological changes unforeseeable at the start of the republic, the presidency has taken on almost superhuman responsibilities that no human can safely discharge.
On August 6, 1945, the office of the American presidency became too dangerous for a human being to oversee competently. With the dropping of the first nuclear weapon on Hiroshima, Japan, and three days later on Nagasaki, decisions undertaken by President Harry S. Truman, the office of the US presidency, became too dangerous for the world. More than that, American voters had no idea that the secret project to build the bombs was even underway.
Truman came into office upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in April of 1945. He had been Roosevelt’s vice president. It’s impossible to say whether Roosevelt would have made the same decision, but what we do know is that American voters did not vote for Truman as president in 1944. His position of unprecedented power in human history came about as a matter of accident.
The distance between democracy and the White House has grown only greater since then. Is it possible for any government, whether a direct democracy controlled by a million people or a totalitarian state controlled by one, to be responsible for a single nuclear weapon? It seems reasonable to suggest that trusting one person with that power is the more dangerous option of the two.
Abolishing the US presidency would not just be good for Americans, but good for everybody else, too. As I type this, on November 2, 2020, polls are just a few hours away from closing in the US. Already, more than 90 million Americans have voted early, a record turnout. But even that number only amounts to less than one percent of the world’s population. It’s not fair for only a tiny fraction of the world’s population to be responsible for a decision that affects so many others. It’s not fair to foreigners, and it’s a burden American voters should not have to bear.
It would be impractical to grant the right to vote to everyone on Earth. Other states would see it as an infringement on their sovereignty, and rightly so. It’d be impossible for US presidential candidates to campaign across 24 time zones. And it would not relieve the key problem of people overseas being held hostage to the absurd vagaries of the US electoral system.
Reducing the importance of the presidency in American political life would also defuse potential attempts by foreign governments to influence the outcome of a presidential election, a phenomenon that the Internet made inevitable. Having a president at all is a bit like setting the country’s password to just ‘’12345.’’
What could a better presidency look like? The name ‘’president’’ need not go away, necessarily. But reducing the role to referee of congressional deliberation is probably a good start. There are term limits to the US presidency, of two possible four year periods in office, but that’s likely too long. Presidents should only be able to serve one term of two years.
And then there’s the issue of foreign policy making and national security. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, congress has lost much of its ability to oversee the day-to-day operations of the executive branch when it comes to deciding which foreigners should live and which should die. No president since then has been able to discharge those duties to the satisfaction of either Americans or the world.
It’s probably because that job is impossible for a single person to handle. President Trump made that clear in his unwillingness to even try to handle those responsibilities. Rather, he’s made decisions that reflect the bigoted desires of his most loyal fans, who represent only a small fraction of the American public. That means a minority of a minority are making decisions that trample on the human rights of people in the US and outside of it.
End the presidency
At no time was this more obvious than in January 2017, when Trump unilaterally decided to ban entry from several Muslim-majority countries, basing his decision on the racist reasoning that Iranians and Syrian refugees were too dangerous to allow into the country at all.
Despite legal challenges by civil rights groups, the US Supreme Court has upheld the president’s right to make this decision. But neither Trump nor any president has a reason to listen to Iranians or Syrians. They don’t vote in US presidential elections.
“I think we have already seen in the last four years, Trump has a very biased opinion towards Muslim as we saw with the Muslim ban,’’ said Yousef Abou Areda, a student at Columbia University in New York City who runs a charity group called Raise for Refugees, donating to humanitarian relief for Palestinians.
Abou Areda, a supporter of erstwhile Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, was not overly excited about the prospect of a Biden presidency, but still alarmed at the prospect of another four years of Trump: ‘’It’s really important that young people, old people and Muslims all across the country do their best to make sure he doesn’t get elected,’’ he told TRT World.
The only solution to the kind of fear and loathing aroused by the American presidency is to end that institution entirely. Doing so will put people like Abou Areda, people who care about the fate of vulnerable people, outside of the US. Their voices have been suppressed by the power of the US president to make life-or-death decisions without their consent or approval.
In his monologue, Chris Rock acknowledged the impossibly daunting nature of the challenge ahead for the US, quoting a black American author who found refuge in Istanbul from the upheavals of racial unrest in the US in the 1960s.
‘’James Baldwin said that not everything that’s faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced,’’ Rock said.
Significantly reforming, or even abolishing, the US presidency, would make America more fair for its citizens and less dangerous for the rest of the world.