The United States Constitution allows a President to be any of the following:
• Black, white or any color or race
• Muslim, Christian, Jewish or any other religion or deist or atheist
• Male or female*
• Heterosexual or homosexual
• English speaking or not English speaking
• Wealthy or poor
• Well-educated or uneducated
• Communist, Marxist, socialist, capitalist or any other economic persuasion
• Military veteran or non-veteran or a conscientious objector
• Physically handicapped or not physically handicapped
• Law abiding or convicted felon**
Dictatorial governments impose restrictions that discriminate against some people and inhibit the freedom of all. The tolerance displayed by Americans, although not perfect, has helped make America the envy of the world—and a good place to live.
Pursuing ideals in a vulgar world is challenging. But, if we do not pursue our ideals, we consign ourselves and future generations to a vulgar existence.
We have never determined what constitutes the best qualifications for a presidential candidate. U.S. presidents have had widely varied backgrounds. President Herbert Hoover came to the office with superlative credentials and the admiration of both Europeans and Americans. He was a very successful engineer. During World War One, he managed the humanitarian distribution of millions of tons of food to Nazi occupied Belgium where, otherwise, people might have starved. After the war, he managed food distribution to other needy European citizens. Later, he served as a cabinet officer in the U.S. government. Hoover seemed eminently qualified to become president. Eight months into his presidency, the world economic system collapsed in what historians call the Great Depression. Hoover, though brilliant, was unable to restart the U.S. economy. He was not re-elected, and historians generally give him low marks.
President Harry Truman gained the presidency with only a high school diploma. He made the momentous decision to use nuclear weapons to terminate the Japanese belligerency. President Truman signed the Marshall plan that provided recovery assistance to a devastated Europe in the wake of World War Two. Truman also sent U.S. military forces to Korea—a conflict that hasn’t ended. Historians generally admire Truman.
President Lincoln did not have a college degree but became a monumental president. Presidents Washington and Jefferson served with distinction in their era, but neither would make the cut today, because they were slave holders. Presidents must deal with hundreds of issues and must depend on advisors when searching for good decisions. Probably, moral courage and ability to judge character are very desirable presidential traits.
The success of a presidential administration depends, to a considerable extent, on members of congress cooperating with each other and with the president, and it further depends on the philosophy of the Supreme Court. Therein, lies a difficult trade-off. Each branch of government must maintain its independence, but functional government requires some cooperation among government officials. Cooperation has sometimes been driven by fear as during the Great Depression, during World War Two, and during the Cold War when the U.S. and the USSR (Russia) were in a nuclear arms race. But, if government officials can cooperate only when motivated by fear, we cannot legitimately call ourselves a great nation. I want to live in a great nation — the greatest.
*The Constitution, written in the 1700s, is not gender neutral. The writers used the masculine pronoun, “he.” However, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, and it is unlikely that anyone will successfully challenge the constitutionality of a female president.
**Eugene V. Debs was convicted for his opposition to World War One. He received almost a million votes as a candidate for the office of U.S. President while he was in a federal prison in Atlanta. Ironically, the court had disenfranchised Debs, that is, he lost his right to vote. But, in America, we can elect whomever we please to be president provided only that the person be at least 35 years old, a U.S. citizen by birth, and a resident within the U.S. for not fewer than 14 years. There is an exception. Any person who held a government office, took an oath to support the Constitution, but then engaged in insurrection or rebellion or gave aid or comfort to same, is ineligible to hold office unless that disability is removed by a two-thirds vote of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Jack Stevenson is now retired from military service. He served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA).