[Written in early-2003, but just as appropriate in 2012. Appeared once in a friend's 'zine, named Misadventure.]
For a long time I've wondered why the U.S. has presidents. It doesn't seem to make much sense to me. Why? Because I've been under the impression that the U.S. attempts to be a democracy. So what, right? Lots of democracies have presidents or prime ministers. Maybe that's the problem: everyone thinks it's normal that a free, democratic society should be entrusted to one individual.
Well, of course, there's the crap we learn in high school-- there's “checks and balances”!! Isn't it genius?!? Every branch of the government checks everyone else? Perfecto! Well, call me skeptical, but I fail to see how giving one individual 1/3 of the decision making for a country of 285 million people is democratic, let alone fair.
Does the Judicial system really “check” the Executive branch? Does the Legislative branch really bother checking the Executive or the Judicial? When was the last executive nominated Supreme Court justice turned down by Congress? When does the Judicial care at all about the Executive? Even in the days of Richard Nixon, it could barely wrestle public property (Presidential tapes) from Nixon's corrupt fingers.
Isn't a “president” really nothing more than a glorified Monarch? It's a King you vote for. Sure, the president can't just wave his arms and get anything done, but damn close. Why in the world would people be foolish enough to give anybody that much power? Here's someone who is only supposed to make treaties and command the military, but now does pretty much anything, including run roughshod over Congress, the Bill of Rights, and the rest of the world.
If we believe in democracy-- really believe in democracy-- why are we stupid enough to fall for the “Great Man” philosophy? If only we had the right president, then the country would be better! Heck, even leftists think this way: if only we elected Ralph Nader, then everything would be all better! How ridiculous it is to assume that a country as diverse as our's is could ever be properly represented by any person (man or woman, Ralph Nader or not)?
Where are all the political scientists writing about how hierarchical this all is? How in the hell can anyone claim that this is democratic? My understanding of democracy is that the people run society. No, George W. Bush runs society (mainly, of course, because we let him). When was the last time you were consulted about what the U.S. should do regarding Iraq? Do you actually think Bush cares about your opinion? He only cares about what he can get away with!
Perhaps it's a fault of human nature that most humans look for one powerful, charismatic person (usually a White male) to lead them out of darkness. But, I think it's because that's what society tells us to do. That's what the media tells us, our high school “civics” classes tell us, and everyone else tells us.
We spend so much time worshipping the memory of former leaders: JFK, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and so on. Well, who worships Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, King George the First (of Great Britain, not the U.S.)? None, but they too got their people mired into the same wars, poverty, and decadence that the aforementioned presidents did. What's the difference?
During the Roman Empire (a predecessor to the American Empire), there formed a triumvirate of power. Three men would control ultimate power in Rome. Not exactly a great idea (although that's 2 more heads of state than the U.S. has). But, of course, two of them turned on one, until he was gone, then the two remaining turned on each other, consolidating power along the way.
When the U.S. was formed, it was intended as a weak union with local authority taking precedence over federal control. Not a bad idea at all, but then the Articles of Confederation was scrapped in favor of a more centralized constitution, with a stronger President (much more like the King of England that they had fought to escape from). Over time, the President compiled more and more power, establishing executive powers far and wide.
Now, we put so much stock in what the president says. We tremble at every word, watch every action, discuss every policy that trickles out of his administration. His decree becomes the direction of the country. His emotions are channeled through the press and felt by the American people (those who still believe presidents, at least). When the president decides to goto war, the country goose steps behind him-- especially the congress, who is supposed to declare war in the first place. When in the hell was the last time a president asked people at the grassroots level of decision making in this country what they think? When was the last time any of them relinquished their own power to local governments and decision making bodies?
The president isn't my father-- I don't trust his advice. The president isn't my god-- I will never worship him or plead for my life. The president isn't my favorite philosopher-- none of his actions mesh with his words. The president isn't (and never will be) my friend-- how could I be “buddies” with anyone who has so much power over so many?
If we believe in democracy-- and I hope the American people and the world does-- we would radically redistribute power. And not just to a higher number of “elected officials”. Democracy does not necessarily mean voting. Voting is only one mechanism of decision making, it isn't democracy itself. We need councils, boards, collectives, cooperatives, affinity groups, spokescouncils, and more councils. None of this hero-worship bullshit, but actual practiced democracy, where no one is more powerful than anyone else.
A president is a King with a good P.R. agent. Only a fool would vote for a King and think they are free.