Will President Joe Biden #MADA: “Make America Dull Again”? Let’s hope so, Joe Ferrullo argues in a column for the Hill this week. Ferrullo’s hardly alone in hoping for a transition from “this is not normal” to a new era of normalcy. “Sleepy Joe,” President Trump’s moniker for Biden, was supposed to be an insult, but to a silent majority of Americans, it might have sounded like a welcome break. Wouldn’t it be nice to forget about the president for hours—even days—at a time?
Alas, that’s not going to happen—or so I argue in a forthcoming piece for Reason magazine: “Good luck forgetting about presidential politics when the president has the power to shape what our health insurance covers or unilaterally forgive student loans; the ability to launch a trade war from his couch—or a shooting war with Iran.” It’s not just Trump’s incontinent and erratic personality that’s made the presidency one of our biggest fault lines of polarization. It’s the fact that the president, increasingly, has the power to reshape vast swathes of American life.
I came across a vivid illustration of that point recently, in, of all places, the New York Times’ monthly “For Kids” supplement. (The banner of every edition features the tag line “THIS SECTION SHOULD NOT BE READ BY GROWN UPS,” but I cheated.)
The presidency‐themed edition that ran just before Election Day promised, among other things, to tell kids “How to Become President” (never explaining why you’d wish such a fate on them).
But what really piqued my interest was a piece billed as “5 Ways the President Can Change Your Life.”
“The president and his administration help determine things that mostly only adults care about,” the Times tells the tykes, “but they also make decisions that directly affect kids’ lives.” He plays a key role in determining what goes into “Your School Lunch,” “How Safe Your Toys Are,” and, using federal aid as leverage, even “What Sports You Can Play”: “Trump’s Department of Education is pressuring Connecticut to prevent trans athletes from competing in track and field.” With authorities granted (and seized) over immigration, the president has the power to determine “Who Can Be a Citizen.” In fact, notes the Times, his authority extends to “Just About Anything.” Though bills are supposed to go through Congress before they become law, “the president can act on his own and issue something called an executive order, which can have the effect of law even though it technically isn’t one.”
As a factual matter, none of that is wrong. But inquiring young minds might wonder whether it’s wise to have a single, nationwide, presidentially‐imposed policy on which sports which kids get to play or which bathrooms they can use. Or why it should be the president’s role to decide who gets to come to America and who gets to stay? And why should he have the power to make law with the stroke of a pen? Those are good questions for the grown‐ups too.
If even schoolchildren, per the Times, don’t have the luxury of forgetting about the president, it’s a sure bet that the rest of us can’t afford to either. You may not want to be interested in the presidency, but the presidency is interested in you. As vice‐president elect Kamala Harris tweeted a week or so after the election: “Know that @JoeBiden and I will wake up every single day thinking about you and your families.” Please… don’t?
Coincidentally or not, right next to the article on five ways the president can change your life, the NYT Kids’ section featured a piece on “Fighting about Politics.” It introduces one Giselle Weingarten, 13, who lately has “gotten really into politics” and “decided she’s a Libertarian, which means she thinks the government should have a minimal role in people’s lives.” “‘It’s very frustrating to talk to people who don’t share my beliefs,’ says Giselle, ‘I just want to yell: that sounds so ridiculous!’” Giselle, I feel your pain.