No matter what happens on Tuesday, Americans are going to have a rough day.
Barring some Election Day surprise, neither candidate winning the Electoral College or some other constitutional crisis (hey, it could happen) — by the end of the night, we will have elected a man who has exhibited ineptitude and contempt for the institutions he is seeking to lead or a woman whose disregard for ethical conduct and federal laws has made her the subject of at least one active FBI investigation.
Yes, one of these people will be the leader of the free world.
Either way, the outcome will be unprecedented.
And either way, the outcome has the potential to be extremely bad for America.
Who we elect to serve as our national leader is important, especially in a year like this when both candidates are a poor expression of their respective parties’ ideals.
We want a leader who is competent, one who can effectively unite the disparate political factions and execute good public policy, and one that foreign nations will respect.
For those reasons we should care deeply about the occupant of the White House.
But today being the president requires much more. It conveys a great deal more power than perhaps it should and more control over the direction of the nation than was ever intended.
It’s a role that has grown exponentially over the last several decades, raising the stakes ever higher each election cycle and making the consequences of who we elect much more significant.
In years like this one, that should give all Americans pause.
According to political science professors Matthew Crenson and Benjamin Ginsberg, who wrote a book about the dangerous rise of presidential power, “the president moved into the driver’s seat of our political system” at some point in the latter half of the 20th century.
Up until then, the role of the president was important but hardly dominant in our federal political system.
Presidential candidates, Crenson and Ginsberg argue, were creatures of party; the office of the president on the periphery of national politics instead of its driving force.
That’s a novel thought.
Today’s candidates are self-propelled, more aggressive and assertive.
Their campaigns are less about what and who they represent in terms of party values and voters and more about self-promotion.
Case in point: Donald Trump — and for that matter, Hillary Clinton, too.
“Those who reach the White House aspire, not just to occupy the office, but to change history, an objective that usually drives them to enlarge the capabilities of the presidency itself,” Crensen and Ginsburg write.
Executive orders, signing statements and administrative rule-making are all mechanisms through which modern-day presidents, motivated to change the course of national politics but unable to do so in our polarized climate, execute unilateral power.
When Congress failed to pass immigration reform, President Obama used executive orders to alter immigration policy.
And while his action has been, thus far, successfully challenged in court, it still represents what should be viewed as a frightening progression of unilateral executive power.
To be fair, Obama is hardly the first president to overstep executive authority. But his administration, like many that have come before, has drastically expanded the role of the White House in creating public and foreign policy.
That’s a trend we can expect will continue under a Clinton or a Trump administration, as each administration builds on that which precedes it.
Just let your imagination run wild with that prospect. Yikes!
Today’s presidential office-seekers like to pay homage to the nation’s founders in speeches and public statements, as if quoting Jefferson or Madison lends credibility to their candidacy.
It’s no surprise that they selectively ignore the fact that the Founders never intended for them to wield the kind of power the office now conveys.
Perhaps that’s the silver lining of this election cycle: It will serve as a powerful warning of what can happen when we allow the expansion of presidential power to go largely unchecked and then put forth candidates who are unqualified for or unworthy of the job.