No matter the system, it seems every country now has a “president.” Including “presidents” (for life) like Vladimir Putin of Russia, formerly the Soviet Union. Which – more honestly – once upon a time had a general secretary or a premier.
It was once the case that only America had a president. Other countries – many of them very un-American, like the old Soviet Union – appropriated the title, with the idea that doing so might linguistically convey a don’t-examine-it-too-closely message of democratically elected legitimacy.
Everyone’s a “president” nowadays.
Because there is no longer much distinction – functionally – between a “president” Putin and a “president” Biden.
One for an indefinite period, the other a defined period. Does it make any meaningful difference?
The modern “presidency” is in fact a kind of disingenuous autocracy, in some cases (as in ours) episodically elected.
Whoever holds the office wields the power of a premier or general secretary. He – or she – issues “executive orders,” another form of linguistic legerdemain meant to flim-flam the minds of the not-every-thoughtful by giving decrees the imprimatur of “democratic” legitimacy.
The general secretary/premier-president makes vast pronouncements about the “leadership” he will provide; about the “policies” he will pursue. Makes promises – and issues threats – like a Third World el presidente. All that’s missing are the sashes, medals and epaulettes. In fact, it’s confusing to not have those visuals. To see an el presidente/general secretary/premier in a suite and tie, as if legitimate. To see a group of these autocrats gathered together for a Ted Bundy-smile photo op, as if they were normal people.
It was never meant to be such. At least, not here – initially. And for about the first 73 years, it wasn’t.
The Constitution of 1787 – which remained largely in force until 1860 – established the presidency as a kind of administrative office, held by the person elected to assure that the laws passed by Congress were “faithfully executed.” The president was not elected to issue decrees, nor to pursue “policies” of his own.
That changed in 1860, when the office of the president was replaced by a general secretary/premier who styled himself “president” – so as to retain the linguistic legitimacy associated with the title.
For the same reason, the general secretaries/premiers of our time – at home and abroad – are also now in the habit of styling themselves “presidents.”
For the same reason that War Departments are now Defense Departments.
Speaking of democracy . . .
That is another word that used to be used to describe countries that had general secretaries and premieres. For example, the Deutsche Demokratische Republic – the former East Germany. Led – at the end – by Erich Honecker, the general secretary thereof. There wasn’t much “democracy” in the DDR, though. Just as there is a lot of general-secretaryship in the modern “president.”
Certainly, there is none in the Constitution – in which the word doesn’t appear even once. Yet it is used everywhere, by the general-secretary/premier who play-pretends to be the “president.” He claims to be its protector – and enforcer. He refers to it as the basis of his lawful authority – though, again, there is nothing in the actual law regarding “democracy.”
What is this “democracy”? In theory – and in fact?
In theory, it is majority rule – via the ballot. If 51 of 100 people vote for X then X becomes not only the law, it becomes right, by dint of the majority having voted for it.
This facade of morality gives “democracy” its veneer of legitimacy – in the same way that calling the person who has the decreeing power of a general secretary or premier a “president” – and having him wear a suit and tie rather than a one-piece jumpsuit or sashes and epaulettes – softens it up and makes it sound like something kinder and gentler (to use a phrase used by a general secretary/premier play-pretending at being a “president”).
In fact, “democracy” is minority rule – often, by a general secretary/premier posing as a “president” claiming to rule on behalf of “the majority,” which isn’t.
A minority of one – as in the defunct DDR.
As is becoming the case in the almost-defunct United States, where the latest “president” was (s)elected by a majority of digits finagled into a black box and even if one sets that aside, at best was elected by about 26 percent of the eligible electorate, about half of which didn’t vote for anyone. This “president” acts on behalf of a minority – and even that is a fiction, because he is restrained by not much more than his personal whims.
It sounds an awful lot like the general secretary or premier of a communist country. Which is precisely why they prefer to be called “presidents” instead.
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