The President is Not Our National Savior

4 ¾ min

Joe Biden wants you to believe he will end "American darkness" as he battles for the "soul of the nation." 

He recently lamented that "people are losing faith in what the president says."

Faith is complete trust based on something other than proof. What more dangerous an idea is there for a free people to hold than to have "faith" in what any politician says, let alone Joe Biden or Donald Trump?

At the Republican convention, one speaker proclaimed that "Trump is the bodyguard of Western civilization." 

The conservative Washington Examiner, while harshly critical of the "extreme platform” of Biden and the Democrats, didn’t spare Trump from criticism. Trumps reelection’s “agenda” was described as “a magic wish list. Trump might as well be promising voters he’ll sprinkle fairy dust on them to make them all princes and princesses.”

Both the Democrats and Republicans are long on promises and short on principles

When did Americans settle into the idea of an imperial presidency?

Gene Healy, in his book The Cult of the Presidency, exposes the belief that some Americans hold that the president should take the role of a “national savior.”

Healy wrote his book in 2008, observing the partisan bitterness of American politics, which seems to have gotten worse. Yet, Healy points out the common ground between the two camps: “Amid all the bitterness, it’s easy to miss the fact that, at bottom, both Left and Right agree on the boundless nature of presidential responsibility.” Healy continues:

Neither Left nor Right sees the president as the Framers saw him: a constitutionally constrained chief executive with an important, but limited job: to defend the country when attacked, check Congress when it violates the Constitution, enforce the law—and little else. Today, for conservatives as well as liberals, it is the president’s job to protect us from harm, to ‘grow the economy,’ to spread democracy and American ideals abroad, and even to heal spiritual malaise… 

Healy notes that few people, “find anything amiss in the notion that it is the president’s duty to solve all large national problems and to unite us all in the service of a higher calling.” Like fish that do not notice the water they swim in, “The vision of the president as national guardian and redeemer is so ubiquitous that it goes unnoticed.” 

The “vision of the president as national guardian,” Healy argues, is not “appropriate for a self-governing republic” or a “limited, constitutional government.”

Before he became president, John Adams was the first vice president of the United States. Adams, while not acting on President George Washington’s behalf, believed in the necessity of a fancy title for the president. At Adams’s insistence, the Senate appointed a Title Committee, which proposed that the president be addressed as ‘‘His Highness, the President of the United States, and Protector of their Liberties.” 

The proposal was soundly rejected by Senator William Maclay. Healy writes that on the floor of the Senate, Maclay was “up from his chair to object at the merest hint of anti-republican language, such as a reference to the president’s ‘most gracious speech’ or a resolution that suggested the president had ‘rescued’ the United States from ‘anarchy and confusion.’” 

Pointing to the Constitution, Maclay restated, fancy titles were unconstitutional and “idolatrous”:  Article I, Section 9, Clause 8: ‘‘No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.’’ 

Washington himself, consistent with the founders’ intent that the president’s primary duty was to see that laws were faithfully executed, referred to the president as the “chief magistrate.” 

“The president has been the central figure in American political life. But the Framers never thought of the president as America’s ‘national leader,’’’ writes Healy. 

Healy continues, “The very notion of ‘national leadership’ raised the possibility of authoritarian rule by a demagogue who would create an atmosphere of crisis in order to enhance his power.  To foreclose that possibility, the powers of the chief magistrate [the president] would be carefully limited.” Along with executing laws passed by Congress, the president’s duty was to use the veto when Congress “transgressed its constitutional bounds.” 

Healy argues soundly, the president as “chief magistrate” was never intended to save the “national soul.”

We might want to blame politicians for out-of-control presidential powers, but we have only ourselves to blame. Many Americans, both Right and Left, want a president, in Healy’s words, “who trumpets his ability to protect Americans from economic dislocation, to shield them from physical harm and moral decay, and to lead them to national glory.”

No wonder presidents are always talking about wars on crime, wars on drugs, wars on poverty, trade wars, and fighting wars with nations. ‘‘It is of the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority,’’ Hamilton wrote in The Federalist Papers: No. 8

Healy writes, “when the president raises the battle cry, he can usually count on substantial numbers of American opinion leaders to cheer him on.”

Today, both Trump and Biden promise to defeat COVID-19. As the public cheers, our liberties continue to slip away. COVID-19 has created public acceptance of erosions to liberty we could not have imagined a mere six months ago. 

We’ve seen state governors issue tyrannical COVID-19 orders, proving Hamilton a prophet. If elected, Biden and Harris promise a national mask mandate or possibly a nationwide lockdown. No doubt, the “faithful” will obediently cheer and comply with other new executive orders.

If we, the people, want a president who will save the “soul of the nation” or a president who will wage war on COVID-19, the America that emerges will bear no resemblance to the republic the founders bequeathed us.


Image Credit: 


Barry Brownstein

Barry Brownstein

Barry Brownstein is professor emeritus of economics and leadership at the University of Baltimore. He is the author of The Inner-Work of Leadership. To receive Barry's essays subscribe at Mindset Shifts.

Add a Comment


Join the conversation...

You are currently using the BETA version of our article comments feature. You may notice some bugs in submission and user experience. Significant improvements are coming soon!


And worse, just as our friend Mister Orwell predicted, the great majority – who thoroughly understand that many politically correct concepts are nonsense – are so fearful of being singled out as not accepting such dogma that they simply remain quiet and allow their once-great country to be converted into a collectivist oligarchy. Of course, that term may startle some as possibly being an overstatement, but once those who value freedom and common sense have effectively been silenced, it’s safe to say that it’s game over. From that point forward, the political class may pass whatever legislation it wishes, with impunity, no matter how illogical or harmful. As Ayn Rand observed, We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force. https://www.lewrockwell.com/2020/09/no_author/systemic-chaos/


"Neither Left nor Right sees the president as the Framers saw him: a constitutionally constrained chief executive with an important, but limited job: to defend the country when attacked, check Congress when it violates the Constitution, enforce the law—and little else." Of course the founders never imagined the slow destruction of their intent by neutering the states with the 17th Amendment or for that matter using a twisted interpretation of the commerce clause to destroy freedom of association or take the Brown reprieve of the hideous SCOTUS separate but equal ruling by declaring that government simply has no authority to slice and dice a population. No one talks about the feel good results of the 1964 Civil Rights Act even though its result is the constitutional antithesis of Plessy. Of course no one will object to the call for black only businesses, residential areas or university dormitories because those who didn't speak up then know that Title II and VII were an abomination that should have never stood but now we have no way to protect the values that the founders held dear.