Monday, February 20, 2017


By Act of Congress, we celebrate the third Monday in February as George Washington’s Birthday. The holiday has an interesting history. Washington was actually born on February 11, 1731 calculated on the Julian calendar then used by Great Britain. Britain switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, and Washington’s birthday became February 22, 1732.

Through the years, the holiday has been variously known as Washington’s Birthday, Washington’s  and Lincoln’s Birthday, Presidents Day, Presidents’ Day and President’s Day.

Back in the 1950’s there was an effort to make the holiday a celebration of the office of the presidency rather than a commemoration of any particular President. That idea got a push from commercial advertisers.

Today, the holiday is basically a day off of work for government employees and a day on which many businesses offer merchandise as bargain prices.

It’s safe to say that, these days, there is not a whole lot of enthusiasm in America for celebrating the office of the presidency. A few days ago, Intelligence Squared, an organization which sponsors public debates, hosted a debate entitled “Give Trump a Chance.”

The debaters were all serious, intelligent professionals. The audience was polled before the debate began. Only 27 percent agreed that he should be given a chance, while 48 percent disagreed. After the debate, they were polled again. This time, only 22 percent of the audience thought Trump should be given a chance, and a whopping 72 percent disagreed.

I suppose we can discount the numbers somewhat, since Intelligence Squared typically draws its audiences from among the academic and professional communities, which tend to be Democrat and Liberal. 

Still, it is troubling to note that there is a large segment of the American people who not only do not like or support the current occupant of the White House; they adamantly oppose him and want him to fail.

It is hard to imagine how the United States of America might benefit by having a failed President in the White House. Why would any honest citizen cheer an increase in crime or unemployment? Why would anyone who loves this nation want to see its fortunes decline, its factories close, its jobs migrate to other countries?

The fact is that the success or failure of a President is tied to the prosperity and felicity of the nation. In my church, we pray for all of our elected officials, whether we voted for them not. Good citizens want their leaders to lead and to succeed.

The President of the United States is a constitutional officer. His powers and duties are specified in the charter of our nation. There is nothing in the law of the land which requires or anticipates that the President must be or will be a popular leader.

George Washington was popular, indeed, he was elected and reelected by unanimous votes in the Electoral College. He understood, however, that the power of a President does not come from his popularity.

There is a difference between power and authority. Political power flows from public opinion. It is ephemeral, fickle and fleeting. Authority comes from the Law. It is based on the formal consent of the governed, granted in writing and adopted by the people.

George Washington warned us that the Constitution must be obeyed as it was written, “unless and until it is altered by the explicit and authentic act of the whole people.”

Article II Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution requires the President to “take care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt appealed directly to the American People on the radio, there has been an increase of direct Presidential governance. Executive decisions, executive orders, and bureaucratic rule making take the place of legislative decision making.

President Trump would be well advised to leave policy making to the Congress. Maybe the nay sayers will agree to give Congress a chance.




    Above is a link to a local newspaper story about my Democratic (Not "Democrat") Congressman, Paul Tonko, in our district in upstate New York (20CD), and about his recent Town Hall that was attended by many ofhis anti-Trump constituents. This is a district that largely voted for Trump.

    I see no indications in the article that Rep. Tonko or any of his constituents want Trump to "fail." The article comports with my experience. But your recent essay does not.

    My experience is that people are AFRAID, based on Trump's Tweets and on rally "rhetoric," that the the presidency is in incompetent and, frankly, dangerous hands.

    If you find yourself in a bus being driven in a wild and dangerous manner by an apparently drunk driver (which once happened to me), you don't want him to "fail." But you are desperate to get off the bus or replace the driver, regardless of what the tour company's rule book might say.

    This analogy is a bit of a stretch, but it makes my point.

    David Frum, the Conservative debater on the "don't give Trump a chance" side of the above debate, participated in a conversation with Sam Harris in a recent recent Harris podcast. Harris and Frum try to be as "charitable" as they can in their assessment of the prospects of a Trump presidency. Frum spells out in detail why Trump supporters ought to think again.

    Below is a link to the Intelligence Squared page for the Trump debate. There one can read how the question was framed, read the transcript, and listen to the audio.

  2. When the proposition being debated is whether to "give the President a chance" the expectation that he will fail is irrelevent. It is one thing to expect someone to fail, it is quite another to deny him the opportunity to succeed.