Respect and the Office of the Presidency

10331725 - president clintonIn the movie The American President, Chief of Staff A.J. MacInerney (Martin Sheen) refuses to call President Shepherd (Michael Douglas) by any name other than “Sir” or “Mr. President”, despite having been friends for years.  As long as President Shepherd is in office, he will be addressed as “Mr. President” and never “Andy”, because the office of the Presidency deserves that respect.

That idea of Presidential respect has stuck with me for more than 20 years.  The office of the US President deserves a level of reverence that goes above and beyond the man behind the office.  I am careful to always use appropriate titles and to bestow respect that is due, regardless of my personal feelings and political leanings, to the man holding the Office of the President.

After a great deal of consideration and internal turmoil, however, I have come to the decision that I will not be able to address Donald Trump with the title of President.  

There are certainly a lot of reasons why you might question the validity of a Trump Presidency, from foreign interference in the elections to the confusing role of the Electoral College versus the popular vote.  My decision, however, comes down to a very simple reality: Donald Trump does not deserve the respect due to any previous President of the United States, because he has repeatedly proven that he does not respect the Presidency or the people of the United States,  and he refuses to treat the role with the level of seriousness that it requires.

Recently, Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and the leader of Inequality Media, addressed the topic in a Facebook post.  Mr. Reich was responding to a politician (whom he had chosen not to name) who told Reich that he would be attending Trump’s inauguration and festivities, because he believed “in promoting unity over partisanship and supporting a peaceful transition of power”.   Mr. Reich responded,

…It’s not matter of Democrat versus Republican, or left versus right.

The issue here is how former presidents and other politicians should respond to someone who has shown himself to be a dangerous demagogue.

Donald Trump became president by lying, demeaning women, denigrating racial and ethnic minorities, denying intelligence reports of foreign intervention in our election, excusing violence against opponents, and undermining the freedom and independence of the press. And since being elected he’s held rallies and issued tweets in which he’s continued to tell big lies, retaliate against critics, call opponents “enemies,” avoid press conferences, and dismiss conflicts of financial interest.

I told him that, in my view, attending Trump’s inauguration gives tacit support and approval to someone who poses a clear and present danger to our democracy.

The word “resistance” feels scary and reactionary, but it does not feel wrong.  My resistance starts with my language.  #notmypresident


LBJ, Eggs and the Power of the Presidency

This post is not about President-Elect Donald Trump. At least, not directly. This is a post that has been in my brain for months now, and it may be more relevant now than ever.

LBJ was an interesting President. His push for the Great Society left us with a significant number of the federal programs and regulation that we still have today—and those programs are still often hotly debated. He was a “big government” politician, and he was successful in executing on his vision. That much of his legacy is tied to the Vietnam War is warranted, but clouds some of this other accomplishments. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

47344195_sIn 1966, President Johnson decided that the price of eggs was too high. He was actively manipulating the economy by directly appealing to industry leaders to control things like the supply of goods or the prices of goods. But in the spring of 1966, he decided that the price of eggs was too high. (I can’t remember why he cared specifically about the price of eggs. I’d look it up, but I don’t think it matters.) His advisors and the Department of Agriculture told him that there really wasn’t anything that they could do. Americans loved their eggs.

So President Johnson got creative.

There had been a recent study that would have otherwise been published in medical journals and mostly forgotten about, but Johnson encouraged the Surgeon General to release the results in a different way. That study found that eggs are high in cholesterol, and that high cholesterol is not healthy.

Media outlets played their role perfectly, if unknowingly, and spread the story far and wide. Eggs were bad for you! Eggs are unhealthy! The demand for eggs dropped immediately and substantially, and the price of eggs dropped with it.

The takeaways from this story are this:

  • The President of the United States has influence and power, and sometimes chooses to use it in really weird ways.
  • The media manipulates us and is itself manipulated.
  • Sometimes it is not enough to look critically at information and think, “Is this true?” Sometimes you also have to think, “Does this matter?”
  • Words and actions have long-term consequences.

Every time I think about eggs or cholesterol, I can’t help but think about politics and LBJ. And now I hope this story haunts you the way it haunts me. You’re welcome. 😉