Harsanyi: Searching for perfect dictator

David Harsanyi

This incessant clamoring by voters and punditry for better “leaders” and more “leadership” is one of the most unsavory, dangerous and un-American tendencies in political discourse.

In contemporary American parlance — and maybe it’s always been this way — a “leader” typically describes someone who will aggressively push your preferred policies. How much do Americans really care about what this aggressiveness entails?

Donald Trump’s entire case, for instance, is propelled by the notion that a single competent, a strong-willed president, without any deference to the foundational ideals of the nation, will be able to smash cultural or political obstacles standing in the way of making America Great Again.

Voters have adopt a reverence for a strong-willed presidential candidate before. Many of the same people anxious about the authoritarian overtones of Trump’s appeal were unconcerned about the intense adulation that adoring crowds showered on Barack Obama in 2008, though the spectacle featured similarly troubling signs — the iconography, the messianic messaging and the implausible promises of government-produced comfort and safety.

Obama’s inevitable failure to live up to the hype has had many repercussions.

One: Liberals justify Obama’s executive overreaches because they correspond with liberal political aims. The argument pivots on the idea the president has a moral imperative to act on his favored policies as the lawmaking branch of government refuses to do so. This reasoning will almost certainly be modus operandi for presidents unable to push through their own agendas — which, may be every president.

Two: Other liberals argue that Obama hasn’t done enough with his power — that the president is unwilling to lead — even if there are procedural or constitutional barriers. Too many Americans seem to believe that presidents can make laws if they fight hard enough, and these people now view checks and balances as unnecessary impediments to progress.

Three: Many one time, small-government conservatives, frustrated with the president’s success and the impotence and corruption of their party, are interested in finding their own Obama — or what they imagine Obama is, which is to say, a dictator.

This fetishizing of leadership isn’t limited to the left or right. The moderate pundit loves to talk about leadership. It would be a full-time job cataloging references to the dearth of genuine leadership — which is, in essence, a call to ignore the democratic forces that make free governing messy and uncomfortable.

“There is danger from all men,” wrote John Adams . Obviously, you have to have a certain skill set to bring people to some consensus, to make decisions about war and to administer government. A person empowered to make everything great also has the power to make everything horrible. If a president alone can transform America, then something has gone terribly wrong with the system.

David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist.