Now that Hillary Clinton has eliminated the public expectation that presidential candidates shall not have committed felonies, what else can almost every participant in modern American politics expect of his preferred presidential candidate? It transcends partisan lines and demographic divides and actually has little to do with traditional politics. The American voter is troubled by the political messiah complex. We all want our guy to fix the country.
Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic asked 30 people why they supported Donald Trump. While the differing reasons boiled down to about four categories, one unifying thread ran through a majority of the opinions. Barring your good ol’ “burn the world” anarchist types, these people were desperately looking for someone to set things right, fix perceived breakages in the system, prop up the economy, stop ISIS, stabilize immigration.
They aren’t just looking for someone to make America great again. They’re looking for a savior.
But hold on a minute. Since when did the president become the sole driver of this nation? He doesn’t make the laws, create jobs (despite a decade of rhetoric to the contrary), or fix the debt. He can influence these things, but he certainly can’t unilaterally declare that they happen. That’s called a monarchy, folks.
The President Isn’t a Dictator—For a Reason
This trend is often more noticeable in Democrats (culminating in Barack Obama, who was hailed as the man who would roll back the tides), but it’s definitely not limited to the Left. It has pervaded the Republican Party and conservative movement as well.
There are three main problems with this. The first one, as previously mentioned, is that the president doesn’t have the power to accomplish the many things for which voters hold him accountable. This leads to the regrettable tendency to automatically indict the highest available authority when things go wrong (as they inevitably do). The blame game the political messiah complex breeds often leads people to condemn those with little direct responsibility while the real culprits go unnoticed.
One could find a litany of examples, but take something as simple as the economy. If things are good, people are happy. But if anything should go wrong, well, the president obviously had a direct hand in raising gas prices to $4.
This complex also leads candidate after candidate to disappointment at the hands of his constituents. No one can actually live up to the campaign promises made nowadays. This applies to all candidates. Ted Cruz isn’t going to abolish the Internal Revenue Service or fix the debt problem on his own, and Bernie Sanders won’t socialize the American economy. People insist on seeing political messiahs not only where none exists, but where none could possibly exist. This only causes disillusion and leads to a more disconnected, angry electorate.
Give Us a King
Interestingly enough, it doesn’t appear that many candidates view themselves in the same light as do voters, at least not initially. If anything, it seems the political messiah complex is a contagious disease. America cries for a savior, so each candidate starts to see one in himself. It’s the King Saul story: while the people clamor for a king, the once-reluctant country boy morphs into a self-important monarch.
As a byproduct, even those who don’t see themselves as “the one, the only” spout wildly unrealistic campaign promises just to keep up. Candidates prefer to dig their own graves at the outset simply because that’s how it’s done these days. A lesson in this is that political chaos and division breed calls for stability, even if that stability comes through a strongman the people ultimately regret demanding.
The last problem is more cultural than political, but it bears mentioning. The constant search for a political messiah denies personal responsibility and encourages individual passivity. It’s so much easier to blame the latest politician who turned his back on you and refuses to hear your concerns than to find a workable solution on a level you can personally affect. It doesn’t help that our culture of victimhood feeds this denial of personal responsibility.
It would serve many to remember that the president is an executive; his responsibility is to enforce our country’s laws and conduct foreign policy. While some may argue that the presidency is more than that, for there are many different ideas about what the office of the presidency should entail (most of them stemming from twentieth-century progressive thought), no one can deny this is his first duty. Just look at the Constitution.
So voters, watch out when the primary parade brings you the Holy Gospel According to My Favorite Candidate. If you think you’ve found a savior, he might just turn out to be a false idol.