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ACOSA Update

Greetings from the Chair 4.17.24
By Cheryl Hyde
Posted: 2024-04-17T14:15:00Z

Greetings! How many shades of green are there? I ask because of the leafy explosion that currently is occurring. There is a stunning array of greens. Grass green. Yellow green. Silver green. Blue green. Brown green. White-streaked green. This multi-green canvas is punctuated by tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and flowering trees. But mostly I’m surrounded by greens. And this is different than the dazzling colors of autumn. More peaceful and calming. A harbinger of the warmer (as in much) weather to come, though at this moment, it's just perfect.

Hard to avoid hearing news on Trump’s criminal trial (one of four, but without a score card, it’s hard to keep track of everything). As part of its coverage, The New York Times recently ran a piece on whether, if convicted, he could still run for president (he can) and if he won, could serve as president (would need to be decided by the court). This is all uncharted territory and creates unprecedented electoral instability – as if we need more chaos this election year.

All this has me thinking about the qualifications to be president. Constitutionally, there are three: be over 35, be a natural born citizen, and reside in the U.S. for 14 years. In contrast, for my MSW students to get an internship, they need to complete criminal background checks, meet GPA requirements, submit various health records, and be interviewed. This seems to represent a higher bar than running for office.

Why? Why do we not have a more rigorous job description or more robust minimal requirements for what is arguably one of the most challenging and demanding jobs in the world?

My guess, in part, is that the Founding Fathers believed that they could enforce “reasonable” standards because voters at that time were propertied white males. Their protection of wealth and white supremacy (e.g., their self-interests) meant that only a select few could or would be involved in choosing the president from an equally narrow pool of candidates. As the right to vote expanded, that control became more difficult to maintain unless a candidate campaigned to uphold classist and racist principles, which most seem to have done to some degree.

Anyway, back to my original question of why we don’t have more rigorous qualifications to be president. Begs the question – what might those be? There’s been a lot of focus on the age of both Biden and Trump, and the insinuation of cognitive decline because of that. Should there be a maximum age to serve? And if so, what? There are some very astute 90-year-olds and some really dopey folks in their forties. If the concern is really about cognitive ability, should various intelligence tests be administered by a neutral administrator with results made public be required? Here we run into the race, class, and gender biased baked into so many of these protocols.

One test requirement I would like to have is their knowledge of the Constitution. The president takes an oath to uphold, but I’m not convinced that they know what’s in it. Shouldn’t we have a president who knows what is in (or not) the Constitution? And perhaps we should extend this requirement to Congress and the Supreme Court.

What about experience? To be president, should the person have already held an elected office and if so which one? Is there something uniquely qualifying about having served as a governor or congressperson? Of course, we would need to determine how to evaluate their records, which would be no easy task. Governor Apples vs. Senator Oranges.

Certainly, having a prison record, or being in prison, should disqualify someone. I remind folks, however, that the great socialist activist Eugene Debs ran for president from his jail cell. Someone like Rev. King would be disqualified. Truly some of the most brilliant change agents have done jail time. So, this disqualification doesn’t quite work.

I begin to see how difficult this requirement-setting is. Further, our candidate vetting process places a lot of trust in the ability of the voting public to discern facts and understand key issues. But campaigning is not a rationale enterprise. The emotional pull of grievances (real or not) drives the campaign bus.

Given this, perhaps our focus should be on a better prepared voting public – one that understands that its responsibility isn’t to just react emotionally but to carefully consider factual arguments of all candidates. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson – democracy needs an educated voting citizenry to survive. These days, I’m not sure we’ve got that.

Finally, we might want to look at making public service for the common good more enticing and rewarding. Rather than elected office being seen as another place to make deals, it should be about service. I don’t know if we’ve ever really held that ideal, but I do sense that if we did, it has really eroded over the last 40 years.

Such are my musings about a flawed process that results in less-than-ideal persons sitting in the White House. Over dinner tonight, my daughter asked if I knew about Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford (specifically his pardoning of Nixon) because she’s studying that in her History class. She wondered how someone like Nixon could have been elected – as in “what were we thinking?” Once I recovered from the realization that I was her history class, I shared some of what was going on back then. Her response – “we need to do better because we (e.g., adults) keep messing up.” She’s not wrong, and our presidential selection process is evidence.

In solidarity,

Cheryl (