I Do Not Respect the Office of the President

Eight years ago conservative media and their followers claimed that Barack Obama needed to show more respect for the office of the presidency. They highlighted pictures of him without a coat on in the Oval Office and him sitting back at his chair with his feet on the desk. These actions were apparently disrespectful (despite similar pictures of Republican presidents doing similar things).

The point seems to be that even though they disapproved of the person in the office, they respected the office and demanded everyone else do the same. Well I’m not so sure it deserves my respect and here’s why.

After reading Obama’s book Dreams from my Father and listening to his speeches and watching his various interviews answering questions thoughtfully and intelligently and noting that he has left the White House without any scandals or affairs and hearing his former employees like John Favreau and Joe Biden gush over how great a boss he was I am convinced Barack Obama is a genuinely decent person. I have seen nothing to convince me otherwise (though I’m sure there are anecdotes from unverified sources floating around on Drudge or Breitbart to challenge me).

That being said, despite the decency Obama seems to embody, he has done some terrible things as officeholder of the presidency. I don’t need to list them all, for they are well known. His use of drones to terrorize the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan, his waging of wars, his ramping up of the surveillance state, and his deportation of immigrants top the list. Some terrible things, like the failure to close Guantanamo Bay detention center and the weakness of the ACA, I take as a limitation of the power of the presidency with a minority congress. But these other offences to decency are his responsibility as Commander in Chief and head of the Executive Branch.

Because Obama seems like such a decent human and because such actions are not unique to his presidency I suggest that such injustices are due to the nature of the office of the president and not the president himself.

Time will tell. I imagine and predict that the Obamas will likely be the most consequential first family post presidency in history, even Jimmy Carter. They are young and healthy and full of ideas and have a lot of people on their side. His time as cultural force is certainly not over. And this time outside of the presidency may free him to do more good with less bad because the office of the presidency is, by nature, flawed.

And so here we are with a new President who is, by almost every standard, not a decent person. I again need not list all the evidence of his terribleness pre-presidency, but just consider that Obama had no affairs, scandals, and few dissenters from his employees and note the contrast that Trump displays. If such a disrespectful person enters an unrespectable office, what can we expect in the next four years? If the office of the presidency compels decent people to do indecent things to others, what will an indecent person do in such a position?

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About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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