Friday, April 06, 2018

We Want A Mastermind; I Hope We Never Get One

     The more I watch domestic politics, from tragedy to humor to the dry, crunching gears of bureaucracy, the more I'm convinced that what the public wants in high office more than anything is a mastermind.  They'd like a saintly, subtle genius, but they'll take a comic-book supervillian -- or even an idiot savant -- but nobody's comfortable with what we usually get, men struggling to keep up with an impossible job and not always succeeding.

     The Presidency was a crazy idea to begin with, a working Head of State with a short fixed term instead of a King who'd grown up expecting the job and looking forward to a lifelong term: Americans were planning to run their government with an amateur, his hands largely tied by an elected (the House) and appointed (the Senate) legislature that controlled the budget, had final say on treaties and had the power to declare war at a time when no country did things that way.  The Presidency turned out to be a job that made Washington grumpy, Jefferson peevish, and came close to killing several of their successors from overwork.

     And we want that guy to be something special.*  Some of the funniest and most satisfying Saturday Night Live sketches showed President Reagan transitioning from a doddering, grandfatherly type greeting visitors to a high-pressure schemer talking his henchmen through detailed plans to control the world -- and President Carter calmly answering question after question on topics from nuclear reactor emergency repairs to coping with a bad acid trip in great and accurate detail.  Even when we don't like a particular President, we cook up complex and nefarious activities to impute to them; one of the more amusing aspects of critics of the most recent President Bush was that they never could decide if they thought he was an idiot or a smart sneak out to enrich himself and his cronies by stealing oil from the Middle East.  We elect engineers and college professors to be President...and at best, they acquit themselves no better than career politicians in the same job.

     So now we have President Donald Trump.  His critics tell me he's a clever criminal, busily looting the and enriching his pals; his fans tell me he's a deep and brilliant negotiator, playing the game seventeen moves ahead of everyone else, and they both are selling the notion that he's a -- what else? -- mastermind.

     Imagine their mutual horror were he to turn out to be a big-talking real-estate developer, struggling to keep up with an impossible job.
* Admit it, you were uncomfortable when I referred to a couple of Founders as "grumpy" and "peevish."  Yet they were mortal men, as moody as any other.  Washington's writings occasionally give the impression of a man who'd like to use bad language and put his fist through a wall, but is too aware of the critical gaze of History to do so.


Monty James said...

I think some of us just liked the thought of voting for someone who looked as if he genuinely liked the country the way he found it. That was enough for me. Didn't really catch that vibe from America's Ex-Wife. Glad we kept her and her friends pretty much away from the levers of power.

Zendo Deb said...

I think it was Plato who said that basically all democracies are doomed to end with the guy on the white horse.

Because democracy is the worst form of government (except for all the rest of course).

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

"Washington’s writings occasionally give the impression of a man who’d like to use bad language and put his fist through a wall, but is too aware of the critical gaze of History to do so."

This. This right here.

I've always been impressed with the fact that he didn't simply shoot some of his officers outright. Not to mention certain members of the Continental Congress.

pigpen51 said...

I think that the mere knowledge that a person aspires to the office of President of the United States shows that they are not sane, and therefore should not hold the office.

That our Republic has stood for as long as it has is not a testament to the constitution, but to the peoples fidelity to it. If the people ever desert their faith in the country, then it will no longer exist. The government has little to do with holding us together. And the president has even less power than most people think. Which is actually the way it was meant to be.

Drang said...

Alas, Philosopher-Kings are vanishingly rare, although there are plenty of con artists out there trying to convince us they fit the description.

Roberta X said...

Monty James wrote, "I think some of us just liked the thought of voting for someone who looked as if he genuinely liked the country the way he found it." Ah, a fellow Gary Johnson voter!

But, seriously, what President ever campaigned on the theme of, "Just keep everything like it is now," unless he was running for re-election?

Roberta X said...

(To answer my own question, "The elder George Bush," who ran as essentially four more years of President Reagan. Which we didn't quite get, though I think history has been far more harsh than he deserved.)

fillyjonk said...

I think Plato (allegedly) once said something akin to pigpen51's comment, that those most fit for office are the ones who actually don't want it.

I dunno, I am in one of my 'disgusted with the entire human race or at least the subset of it that seeks power' moods. We have had a real rash of small-town petty officials being arrested for increasingly bizarre and unhinged crimes. I can't tell if power corrupts or if the corrupt seek power.

pigpen51 said...

Roberta X,

I agree with your point about George the First, to a point. I believe that he was a decent man, a true patriot, who did not harm the nation as president. But he was also the President of the last 50 years or so that knew where the bodies are buried, because he was the one who buried them.

Rumor has it, that when Jimmy Carter became president, he told George Bush that since he was president, he wanted to know all about the UFO topic. Bush as head of the CIA, told him that he was not telling him a damn thing, and Carter told Bush that he didn't want him to stay on as CIA chief. Just rumor, of course, but it stuck with me for all these years, as it told me a few things about both of them, at the time, if it were true.

Of course, it was probably just made up, but it was fun to think it was true. And my opinion of the two of them is not much different today even it that story was not true.

Cincinnatus said...

George Washington was a far more farseeing man than most realize. He knew that everything he did was setting a precedent. He made mistakes, seems to have realized most of them were mistakes at the time or soon thereafter. It is all the more astonishing because he really wasn't that much brighter than any other of our founding fathers, but he seemed to have a better foundation of wisdom than most.

Indeed, probably the most intelligent of our early Presidents was a relative disaster at it - John Adams.

BatChainPuller said...

I've worked with a lot of real estate developers. There are some good ones who are trustworthy, honorable and work within established boundaries of fair dealing.
There are many who are none of these things.
On the surface, Trump seems like he's part of the latter group. Who knows?
But I guarantee that he has better character than 80% of elected federal officials.