Presidential Fever Dreams

Supporters celebrate as they find out that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary during on February 9, 2016. (Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

“I have so long and so often seen the evil effects of the presidential fever upon my associates and friends that I am determined it shall not seize me. In almost every case, it impairs if it does not destroy the usefulness of its victim.” — Then-Rep. James Garfield in a February 1879 diary entry, 16 months before he would be nominated for president without ever seeking the office.

Of all the ways in which shallow democracy afflicts our republic, none is more obvious than in the long, downward arc in the qualifications, character, and fitness of our presidents and presidential candidates.

Among the 45 men to hold the office, we have had many who were inexperienced, rotten, or infirm. But to have all three in a row points to serious problems with the process. 

We have all said at one time or another in recent years, some version of the following: “Out of a nation of 330 million people, are these two really the best we could come up with?” But the problem is not with our national character. There are thousands of men and women in this country who might make great presidents. The fault lies with political and media mechanisms that reward shallowness, selfishness, and cruelty and punish their opposites, especially that most essential quality of any great leader, humility. 

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