Presidents

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I sometimes feel a little sorry for anyone who gets on the bandwagon of an American presidential candidate. For the most part they seem to believe that their chosen hero can accomplish anything, that their most outrageous promises can be accomplished in a week; their impossible ones will take as much as half a term.

Perhaps they don’t understand how their own government works. The President of the United States is powerful. But that’s only because he is the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. The USA has as many atomic bombs, a larger military, more economic clout and more cultural influence than any other country in the world. In some of those categories, they have more than the next five in line. China may have briefly had a marginally larger economy (with 4 times the population) – but since a significant portion of it was driven by American corporations it doesn’t really count. And China may soon fall behind again.

Despite this, America still manages to rank well down the list when it comes to taking care of its people. It’s rankings in education, health care and, of by the way, the happiness of its people, are kind of sad really. But that’s another story.

As heads of state go, the president has less power than the Prime Minister of England with a majority in Parliament. The PM isn’t even head of state (the Queen is) but their office holds all the power. While Parliament has to approve what the PM orders, party discipline makes certain that they do.

None of that exists in the USA. If you think there’s party discipline, you clearly haven’t been watching Congress lately. Ask John Boehner how successful he was getting the Tea Party Republicans to get along with their more moderate colleagues. Ask Paul Ryan or Nancy Pelosi about their respective experiences.

If Donald Trump becomes President, Cruz and Rubio will still be Senators. Do you honestly think they are going to forget the names Trump called them and cooperate with most of what the new President wants? Good luck with that. Of course, Trump could sue them (ha ha) or order them shot. Finding someone to carry out those orders might be a little tricky (unless of course they visit a war zone and they wind up as ‘collateral damage’).

Harry Truman (and he was the only President to actually use nuclear weapons) said his biggest surprise was when he sat at his desk in the Oval Office and gave an order – and nothing happened. He expressed pity for incoming President Eisenhower having to adapt from army life and finding the same thing. And Ike left the White House warning about the power of the military-industrial complex. Fun times.

Bernie Sanders will face the same trouble but he has as few allies in Congress as Trump. It is true that Sanders did get a bill or two passed in the Senate – but that was in part because he was an independent and not a Democrat. He only became one of those when he decided to run for office.

Separation of powers – checks and balances – that is the basis of American government. It often means that nothing gets done – unless you know how to negotiate, compromise, and strike while the iron is hot. And become damn good at exercising what few executive powers you do have. You know, like Obama.

And that’s ten minutes.

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