Like many other Americans, I have been in shock and very, very depressed since the election of Donald Trump as President. I have been thinking about how this unthinkable thing could have happened. I have a small theory that maybe explains a tiny piece of the cluster fuck that is our government for the next four years. It’s not entirely new or original, but I feel it deserves consideration and attention.
In our system, the qualities it takes to win a presidential election are different from the qualities it takes to govern as President. I could argue that what you need for one job is virtually antithetical to what you need for the other. For example, to be a successful candidate you have to be good at making stirring speeches in front of large audiences. To inspire those large crowds and excite the media, you need an outgoing personality, an out-sized ego, plus a charismatic speaking style. You must be larger than life.
But, to govern and be an effective executive, none of these traits or skills — while occasionally handy — are critical or even necessary. Instead, you need to be good at dealing with individuals and small groups. You need to convince, cajole and compromise to get things done. Keeping your ego in check is a prerequisite for working well with others. Flamboyance is a minus, not a plus.
As a candidate, you have to strip complex, nuanced ideas and situations down to a few catchy slogans or sentences. You need to be prolific in distilling ‘sound bytes’ from complicated issues. Those ‘sound bytes’ are what will represent you to the general public via the media. The big picture is what matters. Details and subtleties be damned.
As President, you have to master a myriad of detail on every issue. You need to weigh the pros and cons of competing interests and groups, then come up with viable policies. Next, you have to ‘sell’ these policies to friends and foes, up close and personal. Complexity and contradictions are your meat and potatoes.
The person best suited to win the presidency in America may be the least suited to governing well. Trump was an effective candidate but there’s no indication he can govern. At all. Hillary Clinton was a lousy candidate but I believe would have been a great President. Is there a resolution for this dichotomy?
I’d argue that the English parliamentary system can teach us something. The English have the Royal Family as their “national celebrities” and tabloid fodder. Their Members of Parliament are supposed to be boring, nerdy, policy wonks. No one expects their MPs or even the Prime Minister to be a dazzling public speaker or TV personality. (Justin Trudeau of Canada is a rare exception – he has it all!)
I’m not advocating a monarchy for America. But maybe we could have the President and Vice Presidential candidates run as a real team. The Vice Presidential candidate could be the crowd pleasing media star for the election cycles. The President could just be the back office guy who crunches the numbers and gets things done when its time to govern.
I’m not sure whether or not this system would work in practice, but it sure as Hell couldn’t be worse than what we have now!