As America watches President Obama leave the White House and President-elect Trump become POTUS today, it is important to remember why we celebrate this event. No, I’m not talking about conservatives celebrating the end of Obama’s presidency. I mean presidential inaugurations in general.
Regardless of whether all of the ceremony is necessary — I happen to like it; other contrarian conservatives do not — what is important is that inaugurations represent the changing of the man in office for all Americans, regardless of what each person thinks of him. Both the cause and the effect of not treating the transition from one president to the next in this manner is the liberal meltdown we’re witnessing.
Conservatives look upon the presidency in a fundamentally different way than do liberals. Whereas conservatives see the office as a limited one, with restrictions placed on it by divided government and a federal system that includes important roles for state and local governments, liberals need executive power, due both to their need for a powerful government in general to bring about their vision and to circumvent the opinions of the benighted masses.
To liberals, it is of the utmost importance who occupies the office. To conservatives, the man in office matters — it can be more important than the office should the man holding it greatly evade the constitutional restrictions on his power — but it does not threaten the republic.
High school civics ought to teach every American that the reason Article II is so short is because the American Founders recognized that men are flawed, and rule by the whims of one or a few is hazardous to the rights of all. Liberals may find this backward thinking, Obama may be annoyed by the restrictions placed on him, but today many on the Left react to a situation that is the logical result of their own ideas about government when they collide with the true constitution of human nature.
The president is a man. The presidency is an office, created by the Constitution, which enumerates certain powers granted the president and — more importantly — does not enumerate many others, which are granted to other branches of government or reserved to the states or the people.
This distinction matters. It matters because it tells us that the presidency is bigger than any man. It is why George Washington’s decision to leave the presidency when no one would have asked him to was so decisive in American history, more decisive than that decision was to the ideal of the peaceful transfer of power (which was really tested in 1801, not 1797). The man who could have been king chose instead to set a precedent that another could and must take the office.
Only when that office is seen as more than just the man behind the desk, more than Washington, Obama or Trump, will the country consistently expect the office’s powers — and limitations — to be respected. Conservatives and liberals alike should hold presidents of both parties to account, even if it prevents one we like of accomplishing what we want. The trade-off matters because sometimes we get a president who scares many Americans.
Liberals are to blame more than anyone else for their own current fears (though conservatives have not always been blameless). It is primarily because they made the president himself so important and pushed for powers so extensive that President Trump could be seen as such an existential threat to the United States.
To the over 60 Congressional Democrats skipping the inauguration: your philosophy of government created this danger. If you want to stop it, treat the office as the Constitution intended. It limits powers for just this reason.
You can start today by reflecting on and respecting the office, regardless of what you think about the man.