American’s view of the Presidency is changing. No, more than ever, the Presidency has taken on the role of “savior”. While the current election cycle has ratcheted this rhetoric up a thousand-fold and made it plainly obvious, savior politics has been brewing the background of American politics since World War Two.
For much of the history of the United States the role of the Presidency was on equal or slightly lower footing than Congress. Our first three Presidents famously had 3 total vetoes between them. This was do in part to less responsibility to the electorate with neither direct election of Senators, full suffrage, nor the standardization of the electoral college being in place yet. Fears of a “royal Presidency” were also a giant specter over the American political scene for a very long time. All of these cultural forces, as well as a smaller treasury and less willingness/lack of precedent for the use of Executive Orders meant that the President of the United States of America did not hole the same physic space that they do currently. The modern presidency as we know it, didn’t really come into being with FDR and didn’t get cemented until the depths of the Cold War. As a reminder there are just 11 presidents between Obama and the second Roosevelt.
The development of savior rhetoric started with FDR, as our leader during WWII but did not really come about until the Cold War. The Cold War was an unprecedented event in world history and lead to some huge changes for the presidency. The United States had thrust itself upon the international stage and it needed someone to be its avatar. The easiest person for that mantle to fall upon? The President. Wars, especially wars based on faux ideo-moral economic world views need heroes. And who better to make a hero than the person nominally in charge of the military and the person who gets presented as the face of the country. This posturing of the President as the heroic moral center of the fight against communism, along with the invention of television, which allowed a much quicker more effect dissemination of that message helped spur the message of the President as savior.
The idea of a President as savior is easy to see. Reagan, Nixon, and Kennedy were all pitched as “the man to save us from the Reds.” Bill Clinton and Obama, and Bush were all voted into office as “the men to save us from our economy”, with the added bonus of Obama and Bush being “the men to save us from the Muslims.” But the savior rhetoric was subsumed by various other policy or scandals to the background for most of these elections. The current election cycle however is defined entirely by the idea of President as Savior. Hillary Clinton is, by her supporters, presented as some sort of Mother of Dragons/Defender of the Free World/Paragon of Light, while Trump is a Maverick of Change/Savior Outsider/Truth Teller to his supporters. The election is no longer about who might be best at leading the U.S. with a steady hand, but who will lead us into, or save us from an epochal paradise/tragedy. For the most part, supporters on both sides seem to believe that if their candidate is elected President all of their problems will immediately and unequivocally be solved. This is nonsense.
Hillary’s proposed policies will not solve the problems of her supporters, same as Trump’s policies, such as they are, will not solve the problems of his. Hillary’s neoliberal economic policies are seemingly cut and pasted from Obama’s “growth” playbook. This playbook, while it has lowered unemployment and raised the GDP has not done it in ways that help most people. Many of the new jobs created under Obama are either “gig economy” jobs like driving for Uber, or STEM jobs that are helping create another tech bubble. The wealth gap has only shrunk and shrunk and while labor protections have decreased every year. Hillary wants to continue these plans. They will only help the mega rich. She also cannot single-handedly end sexism in America, just as Obama could not end racism. The same goes for Trump’s policies. Building a wall or banning Mulisms isn’t going to solve any of the racial fears of Trump voters. While Trump hasn’t said anything truly concrete on his economic plans, his braggadocio about “getting good trade deals” or whatever, is just that, braggadocio. In the end he’ll most likely just do what his Republican handlers want him to, which are just more outwardly more pro-corporate versions of Hillary’s plans. His stance on social issues isn’t going to do shit for his supporters either.
In the end it’s important realize that President is just a person, not a mythological savior. They are person who most likely won’t do what they said they’d do and will make some really fucked up decisions during their time in office. They are also a person who decided to run for President, which in most case, means they are at least slightly sociopathic. Don’t trust the President to save you. They won’t.
So if the president won’t save you, who will? Do it your damn self. Run for office. Makes changes on a local level. You’re much more likely to help someone as a mayor that you are as the President.