By: Dalton Hatfield, University of Pikeville
The Inauguration, the White House, and the State of the Union address are synonymous with the office of the President of the United States. The role of the Commander-in-Chief is highly respected, but also misunderstood. The glamour and power surrounding the office of the President often creates a misconception of the president’s role in American government.
He is the “leader of the free world,” but he is subject to checks and balances, limitations, and even oversight. Over the course of American history, the public has developed an illusion of the presidency, mystifying it and accrediting the President with more duties and powers than he possesses.
Only a couple of days of into The Washington Center’s 2017 Inauguration seminar, my understanding of the role of the American presidency has already been altered through daily readings, site visits, and seminars that include political science and American government academics and experts.
It’s an exciting time to be in our nation’s capital. There is a great deal of buzz surrounding the incoming President; preparations for the Inauguration are well underway at the Capitol; and chatter regarding President-elect Trump’s policies, Cabinet picks, and plans for America fill the air. Parts of the country are hopeful after the results of the Nov. 8 election, while other places remain disheartened and on edge over what might be in store over the next four years.
Being from the mountains of eastern Kentucky, I have witnessed resounding support for Donald Trump. People are excited, not only about the prospects for jobs that will put food on our tables, but also because they again feel part of the electoral process and believe they have someone in the White House who is acknowledging their problems. After only a couple of days attending TWC Inauguration seminar I’ve learned that the reality of the situation is that President-elect Trump can only do so much because his powers are limited.
I’ve bought in on promises made by certain presidential candidates. I’ve believed that a single person can enact sweeping change across the country. I’ve also felt that certain candidates might endanger the safety of the nation. Over time I’ve learned that much of what I had previously perceived was not the case; and in only a couple days at TWC’s Inauguration seminar, my realizations have been affirmed. President-elect Trump might accomplish some of the policies he has campaigned for the last year and a half, but no president can wave a magic wand and enact wholesale change. Moreover, no president can solely repeal every piece of legislation that has been enacted into law under previous presidential administrations.
Representative democracy is a beautiful system, but it’s also messy. We citizens often wonder why the president doesn’t follow through with promises made on the campaign trail. The working relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill is complex. Additionally, outside forces such as nongovernmental organizations, political action committees and the American electorate can alter the President’s positions through pressure, activism and advocacy. The role of the President of the United States is powerful, highly respected and compelling; but it’s also multifaceted.
Thus far my experience through TWC has taught me that there is much more to the president’s powers than meets, which leaves me with two final thoughts. First, to Trump supporters: the President-elect has promised many things, but don’t be appalled if he doesn’t follow through with all of them. The president is only capable of doing so much.
Secondly, to Clinton supporters: Your candidate didn’t win and you’re disappointed, but the president can only do so much, be it good or bad. He is limited not only by Congress, but also by political activists and concerned Americans.
The beautiful thing about democracy is that we have voices no matter what side of the aisle we’re on.