Choosing a President

We can’t all be the smartest person in the room, Right?

Hi this is Chris the Amateur Ethicist. Today I’m talking about what it takes to become president, and a common sense view on voting for one. On this channel, I talk about the crossroads between convenience and technology. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, I hope you’ll join me. Subscribe, hit the like button, ring the bell icon and share this channel with your friends. Let’s talk about this.

I’m not a surgeon. But I want whoever is doing my appendectomy to have been vetted so that he or she has the knowledge to do so expertly and safely. As for experience, I would hope that I am not this doctor’s first appendectomy patient. I would want that doctor to have at least a few surgeries already under his or her belt, but new surgeons have to gain experience, so usually an experienced surgeon will supervise. In other words, collaboration applies wisdom to the situation.

The same goes for any situation where I’m not an expert, but would rather hire an expert to do something for me. I don’t have to agree with their politics. I don’t even have to agree with their religious beliefs. Electricians, mechanics, plumbers, arborists, doctors — I want all of these people to be smarter than I am, at least when it comes to what I’m asking them to do. It’s not a popularity contest. The person I’m hiring could be a total toad when it comes to personality. That shouldn’t matter. I want them to get the job done efficiently, expertly, and safely. In fact I’m relying on them to be smarter than I am and have more experience and wisdom than I do in this particular situation.

So when I think about voting for a president, I don’t want someone who’s just like me running our country. I want someone who is wiser than I am about our economy, environment, state, federal and international affairs. I want someone who can off-the-cuff knowledgeably defend their stance on specific issues that affect our country in open debate without appearing like an idiot, even if I don’t agree. I don’t expect that person to have all the answers, but I do expect them to be honest when they don’t know. When I go to the polls to vote, I don’t vote by party lines. I vote for the person who has strength of character and wisdom. I vote for the person who’s going to collaborate with other branches of government and foreign allies in a way that will strengthen and sustain our country today and into the future. I want someone who is not a fear monger. I want someone who isn’t paying lip service to citizens while taking money from large businesses. Nobody is squeaky clean, but I draw the line at the emoluments clause, and willful ignorance. A president who has strength of character and wisdom will do his or her best to abide by our constitution and attempt to apply those laws so they better serve our citizens (not just big business) in the future. If I have a sense that any of my neighbors would do a better job than a presidential candidate, I’m unlikely to vote for that candidate.

Our Constitution requires that a president A. be at least 35 years old, B. have lived consecutively in the United States for the last 14 years, and C. be born on US soil. Those and election results and a successful inauguration ceremony are the only requirements for becoming president. However, in the same way that I expect wisdom from my doctor or my plumber, I expect wisdom from my president. Unfortunately, no track record of wisdom is required. Unlike the judicial branch of government, our legislative and executive branches of government require no validation or track record. It’s essentially a popularity contest fueled by whoever has the best funding, the most charisma and the snazziest two-second catchphrase.

I have to wonder whether the three minimum requirements are sufficient to the tasks of a modern president. Sure, anyone can grow up to be whatever they want to be, ostensibly in our society, but we have vetting processes for the kinds of positions that require specific knowledge and experience. You can’t just hang up a shingle and call yourself a surgeon or an architect, and beyond the obvious health risks and safety factors to the general public, there are serious personal consequences for pretending to be one.

Maybe we don’t need an amendment, but personally, I’d like to see some track record of citizen participation in the form of at least 1000 hours of service, whether civilian, military, political or nonprofit, even better if as a volunteer. I wouldn’t mind seeing some level of skill in multiple languages, including Spanish or French and fluency in our country’s main language, English. I want a president who has a track record of conducting dialog between disparate parties with unanimously praiseworthy outcomes.

Frankly, a president can’t afford to be a toad. The odd unexpected faux pas is one thing. And we can all identify with character flaws like cursing if you stub your toe or an inability to pass up a chocolate doughnut. But an inability to empathize with diverse points of view makes for less than ideal leadership. A president should be engaging and exude unflappable gravitas. I expect no venom to escape the president’s lips in public, and at the same time the ability to ask for forgiveness when appropriate. It also means that the president would need to recognize when he is not the smartest person in the room with regards to specific tasks like housing or commerce or foreign relations. I want a president to appoint people who are smarter than he is for these kinds of tasks and rely on them for their wisdom when making decisions that directly affect our citizens.

For positions that are appointed by our president, I want the people who fill those positions to be leaders in the field for which they are appointed, regardless of political affiliation. Any fox-in-the-henhouse situations should also be disqualified. For instance, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency should a vetted scientist with a track record of publishing and/or teaching about environmental evaluation and management, not a businessman actively seeking to dismantle the EPA from within in order to maximize short-term profit for his company or his friends by loosening existing laws at the peril of the long-term health and sustainability of future generations.

A president with a mostly “acting” cabinet should be disallowed. This is basically broadcasting to citizens that either the president is unable to engage qualified people willing to work at the pleasure of the president, or the president is unable to get approval for profoundly unqualified people with hidden agendas that don’t belong in those positions. With unqualified people in “acting” temporary positions, our government remains compromised and unable to fully serve the needs of its citizens. Acting cabinet members know they won’t be around long, so they commit a sensible portion of their time looking for an exit strategy rather than concentrating on the job at hand. While our country has not adopted the UK’s “vote of no confidence”, a mostly
“acting” cabinet should be an alarm bell for citizens that our country is not running on all cylinders. When legislators ignore the problem, it’s time for citizens to call or write their senators and representatives and let them know this is not okay. A presidential censure may be in order. If that doesn’t work, it may be time for Congress to enact the 25th amendment or impeach and expel the president.

Occasionally, there will be the presidential candidate who has gained enough general experience and innate wisdom outside the arena of politics and legislation who could probably be thrown into any situation, and learn the ropes by hitting the ground running. I like the idea that someone like this could make our country better. But the circumstances under which that could happen are pretty slim. A documentable track record makes it easier for me to feel secure about the person for whom I’m voting.

My question for you is, should we have additional requirements for this most important position in our country? What sort of vetting process would you include for someone who wants to become president of the United States other than the three minimum requirements laid out in our constitution? Or do you think it’s okay for a president to be just one of the guys, one of the gals, to not have any previous experience in leadership or service outside a business setting? Why not leave your suggestions in the comments below?

So that’s what’s going through my head today. I hope I got you thinking. I hope you learned something. If you have, please subscribe, hit the like button and ring the bell icon so you won’t miss future videos. Thanks for crossing the road with me today. This is Chris, the Amatuer Ethisicist, and I hope you’ll see me in the next video.

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