What If Presidents Were Elected in Pairs — One Democrat, One Republican?

For the benefit of all, an outside the “Man Box” approach would temper self-serving ambitions in those seeking the “highest office.”

There’s really no other way to slice it. Listening to the impeachment hearings is downright depressing. While brief thrills may be had, aghast or indignant, staking out the right-ness of your side, stepping back from it all as an American these days has been plain, old flattening, for everyone I’ve talked to, at least.

I was in this flattening-effect pretty deep when I came across a wild idea that, had the framers somehow baked the Constitutional cake differently, might have helped avert this polarized, impasse. It’s wild, so bear with me — after all, wild can start to look normal in today’s climate… This was it: What would America look like if instead of electing one president, we elected two — the two front runners of opposing parties — in our current case, a Republican and a Democrat. The pair would be evaluated after four years based on what they had accomplished together by way of compromise and collaboration during their term.

Wow. Sounds nuts, doesn’t it? It’s hard to even picture in today’s climate, but trying it on just for fun, it challenged me to start thinking about how different our politics could be if our system had been built on a foundation that buttressed the value of relationship. What if politicians ran for election not just on their platforms, in other words, but also as exemplars of the ability to partner, listen, be creative in solving complex problems according to the needs and wishes of different constituencies. How would we need to adjust as citizens, if we knew that the election would result in ‘our side’ having to work with ‘their side’ for anything to truly get done? How would we, as citizens, relate to the country differently? How would it motivate us to get to know, or befriend, one another? How might we be soberer in our aspirations, seeking more knowledge in thinking about the needs of the whole, not just of ourselves? And what characteristics would we look for in the candidate?

Consider the following:

  1. We’d shift from a model that forces information on voters, convincing them of the absolute rightness of our position, (sometimes, uh, at the cost of lying), to a model where competition happens around the ability to listen, learn, respect and negotiate.
  2. In a polarized electorate, the delusional, (narcissistic) denial of the other side’s existence would get punctured, forcing us to face the reality of the whole country more squarely.
  3. We’d have to move from a dominator/submitter, winner/loser model to one where for anything to get done, differences would need to be respected — we’d have to SEE each other, not disregard, dismiss, belittle or defeat the other’s position.

As a thought experiment, it starts to reveal what an Executive Office could look like if the framers valued something in our human nature other than the ego, individual charisma and self-serving ambitions that often exist in individual politicians who ‘rise to those heights.’

Two street signs are mounted on the same pole, pointing in opposite directions. One says "Trust" and the other says "Mistrust"
Image by Gerd Altmann (Pixabay)

Superiority vs. Partnership

Of course, this idea didn’t rise out of a vacuum. I write about post-patriarchal culture and citizenship and, along with many others, see Donald Trump not as a rogue phenomenon, but as the culmination of a rising polarization in this country fed by the growing threat of progressive change to a white patriarchal status quo. Trump, dubbed by some as the last gasp of patriarchy and by others, with less optimism, as evidence that the “American Experiment” has failed, is perhaps, we can agree, textbook patriarchy at its worst: A model of relating — if you can call it that — bent on domination, superiority, self-reliance and a might-makes-right unquestioned authority.

In her exhaustive research on patriarchy, feminist writer Riane Eisler arrived at one primary shift that would go a long distance in our culture as an antidote to the damaging, inbalance that patriarchal value systems wield in the world: Partnership.

Partnership isn’t just a concept, or a nice idea with a feminist ring to it, its something that exists throughout nature and is ubiquitous in its systems that support life. We think of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” supporting the rights of individuals because…well, it was set up that way. But what if our founders had understood, as many a mother does, that life just as much depends on relation, on inter-relation, on giving, sacrificing, and on recognizing needs. Life depends on mutually beneficial relationships as much as it does on learning to stand on our own two feet. This isn’t just “women’s wisdom,” though, or, as I said, a nice feminist idea, it’s the all-too-often untold story of what makes life, life. Of what makes life livable.

Tiny slim stems with new green leaves rise out of mossy patches in blue water
Image by Emmanuel Mbala (Unsplash)
I recently traveled to the Galapagos Islands — a truly incredible place to see where (and how) Darwin developed the theory of natural selection that would later buttress worldviews founded on the principle that the most competitive individuals, the “fittest” survive. However, on those islands, there’s an equally remarkable lesson to be learned about not just competing finches, iguanas and sea lions, but how much no individual, living being could exist without relying on others — within their own species and beyond. Even the iguanas – cold-blooded reptiles – can’t survive without piling on top of each other to keep warm! If a baby sea lion survives, it is at least partly because of its location within a network of supportive others in the ‘rookery.’ There is no survival of the fittest without the equally valuable survival of the group. The ecology of the group, in short, and all that supports it needs to be taken into account, not just the strength and toughness of the pack’s alpha male.

Similarly, relationship, how successfully we connect, is a human capacity, a human necessity, just as much as self-assertion, competition and becoming one’s own person is. In fact, you really can’t do one without the other. A winning sports team must work together for that NBA title, you need a community to find footing after a disastrous fire, working together. When our attention goes to just the winning, we take our focus off all the partnering relations that made any of being alive and succeeding at life possible in the first place.

Oil seeping across sand.
Image by Mario Caruso (Unsplash)

Polarities: Public/Private, Male/Female, Black/White, Democrat/Republican

Raised as we all are in a patriarchal worldview that separates autonomy/individual rights/politics from relationship/family/personal— we privatize this quality of (inter)relationship, relegating it, through the gender binary, to its ‘place’ on the home front, to women. This is arguably because the framers framed their Constitution in a time and place when this separation was heartily entrenched in the culture. Competition was for men, partnership for women. After all, working together in collaboration is what women do in the kitchen. Men, by contrast, compete to win, they fight to separate from the ‘mother’ country! When separate, they must battle against each other, then, in order to win and govern.

The framers developed a brilliant system for checking patriarchal men’s competitive worst instincts, (except, importantly, as they were enacted against women and slaves). In doing so, they set up a system with the goal of protecting themselves from one another. But they left behind some of the key principles they needed to include to represent more than just themselves. They left behind in their design the parts of life they relegated to the mysterious, a-political realm called the ‘private’ sphere — they place where women, servants and slaves supported the whole shebang in Washington. There, in that so-called ‘private sphere’ was the key not just to what’s necessary for white men not to not kill each other, but what’s necessary to support life.

What, then, if what was valued in our Constitution was different, or rather, if the net was cast wider. What if the framer’s vision wasn’t born from the division into the public and private sphere so prevalent in patriarchy, but if compromise, collaboration, and our inter-connection were held up as the greater good we needed to protect and enable in our governing institutions? What if the goods of the so-called private sphere were truly valued in the foundations of our public institutions?

The Patriarchal… “But!”

I can hear the objections flying: “This making women better than men is full of *hit. Let me tell you about the women I know who don’t know how to partner!”

“Partnership is a bunch of mamby-pamby leading to analysis paralysis. Tell me what happens when your so-called partnering leaders can’t agree when N.Korea has a missile pointed at California!”

“Yea, right. That’s an invitation to civil war. I think we’ll pass on that, stupid.”

The trouble is, we are SO steeped in the particular worldview that privileges a certain orientation to life, it’s hard for us to even imagine what a world would look like that prioritized the value of making the best decisions from the point of view of our inherent interconnection. I have no doubt there are enough brilliant minds in our mix to imagine solutions to things like the North Korea scenario. I have plenty of responses to share to all these objections. But minds just don’t get put to work creatively engaging new solutions in the service of a newly upheld ‘good’ or ‘value’ in governance if we’re too scared or defensive to open to that possibility. When these perspectives are tossed out at the doorstep with cynicism we’re stuck with a worldview that privileges cynicism over love, individuals against one another, now endowing corporations with these same ‘competitive’ rights. The irony is that what feeds these defiant rebuttals at their base is not the strength or the “Truth” of them, but fear. Fear of the very vulnerability in our inter-connectedness that we need our governments more than ever to respect and protect.

Polarization is a funny thing in this way. It builds and builds, reinforcing the belief that we must dominate the other, striking them out of existence, in order to survive. Our existing governmental system, in fact, is founded on polarization — that between the private/public, female/male and black/white. (Yes, the separation of powers was intended to off-set polarization, but as we see, it hasn’t worked. Yet, at least.) Our system is set up to privilege and value certain human aptitudes and capacities, prizing charismatic leadership and, in the case of Donald Trump and his newly forged GOP, to win over the lesser, inferior others’ (women/racial minorities) at any cost.

On a shrinking globe, however, where, in America, in one year we consume what it takes the planet four years to reproduce, the humbling impact of climate change is making our interconnectedness increasingly apparent. The security of our economy, our borders, of capitalism as we know it, is wholly at stake. We can’t afford the delusions fostered in polarization. We can’t afford the illusion that our side can do it alone. We have to figure it out together. Time is up. There is no ‘out’ we get from winning one over the other.

On a rocky mountain top at dusk or dawn, one boy helps another climb the last steps to the top
Image by Mohamed Hassan (Pixabay)

A Partnering Presidency

If nothing could get done in the Presidency unless a winning pair of a Democrat and Republican jointly agreed on the action, well….the dial would be turned up on the need to compromise for life. Suddenly fair play becomes valuable because the consequences of the lack of it stymie anything from happening, including one’s re-election. Earning each other’s trust becomes something important to cultivate and value once earned. We would be forced to see each other as equals, subject to subject, not winner to loser, not superior and more valuable than the other. Similarly, learning to listen would become paramount, serving to remind us we are one human body on one planet.

The problem with our governing systems may well be, then, that they were founded on basic principles about what it is to be human born from the minds of white, patriarchal men in a very different era. These white men created remarkable systems to temper their worst instincts against each other, (but not against the darker skinned, of course) coming to the table to defend their individual right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Founded on the tales from the Enlightenment about “man” in the “state of nature,” we are, of course, more today than just men and we face a very different state of nature.

I don’t want men to step aside for others can take over. We need them. To want them out so we can take over is to reverse the polarization, perpetuating our problems in all the un-natural ways this has already happened. I want white men to be in real partnership with the rest of us and for that, they need to see beyond themselves. They need to see first into the ‘private sphere’ and then out to the larger ‘country’ —to include all humans, our planet and the systems of collaboration and inter-connection that give us all life. Maybe a Partnering Presidency could help support that.

So…Perhaps these flattening impeachment hearings are the mother of invention! It’s a stretch, but a worthy one to make us think outside the “man” box. If Democrats, Republicans and Independents knew that whoever they elected would need to partner with the other side to get anything done they would probably be looking out for candidates skilled in the art of collaboration, men and women, (or from across the gender spectrum), best able to bring their hearts and minds to the table with the opposing side to address the complex problems in our country and world. If we all knew the presidency was about this in 2016, would anyone have elected Donald Trump? And if we knew now, in 2020, that a partnership presidency was the plan moving forward, how would it change the kinds of conversations happening in our impeachment stymied Senate, today?

America, the Irrational.

In the past two weeks, I’ve been unreasonably addicted to the impeachment hearings. They’ve taken over my life, dispiriting me, swallowing up precious windows of time. Driving my children home from school, as the chatter slows down and we could settle together into silence, I turn up the volume on the radio. Instead of focussing on a writing project beckoning my attention, I’m one-hand-coffee-one-hand-remote in front of the TV.

It’s big news, of course. History-making. As a citizen, I’m called to witness that history, but let’s be honest, there’s a deeper story here. My unreasonable, addictive preoccupation with the impeachment hearings belies a hope that if I watch for long enough, some ‘truth’ or ‘fact’ might magically jump off the screen to save us all. Continue reading “America, the Irrational.”

The Obama/ Buttigieg Difference: On the Appeal of a Post-Patriarchal Masculinity

Amidst the rapidly growing pool of candidates for the democratic ticket in 2020, the relatively un-known, Pete Buttigieg, is making an un-expectedly big splash. “Mayor Pete” distinguishes himself in many ways — he’s the youngest candidate, an outside the beltway democrat from a red-state and, of course… he’s gay. People are also impressed with his grounded rhetoric — a down-home, reasoned and whip-smart common sense. Likened by more than a few to Barack Obama, Chris Cillizza writes: “Don’t look now, but (another) skinny kid with a funny name is turning heads in the presidential race.”

Like Obama, Buttigieg does have that remarkable ability to focus his sizable intelligence, (he’s a Rhodes scholar with a philosopher’s reflective interest in all-things-civic), on our complex political reality in readily, relatable ways. Also like Obama, he has that unflappable capacity to sound reassuring with every answer he offers, coming off cool no matter the curve ball.

But, I think there’s another reason why Buttigieg reassures us. Of all the candidates, he has something Obama had that’s essential to our future and yet that’s rare among men in leadership today: what I would describe as a post-patriarchal masculinity.

Continue reading “The Obama/ Buttigieg Difference: On the Appeal of a Post-Patriarchal Masculinity”

What We Liberals Don’t Want to Face About a Divided America

Yet again, this past week, America faced a new slew of tragic mass shootings. Yet again, American’s heads are hanging low in despair at the senseless brink of lethal absurdity our country now hinges on. Yet again, in the chilling days after these killings, communities are beset with grief and the fingers of cable news anchors and politicians come out to point to non-existent gun laws, mental illness, Trump’s rhetoric, and the hateful violence erupting on 8 Chan. And, yes, yet again, legislation around background checks surfaces as the biggest no-brainer to cross the desks of our Nation’s lawmakers, uh, ever.

But also, yet again, one of the most critical issues contributing to our nation’s sorry state fails to broach public dialogue. Beyond the righteous battle cry against hate is a much more challenging question, both because it pushes against political correctness and because it has to be asked from our hearts: How can we try to understand all this violence and hatred?

The answer many people have is racism, or the toxic cocktail of Trump + racism. They are correct, but that doesn’t get to the root of my question. I’m talking about a deeper understanding of hatred, itself. Continue reading “What We Liberals Don’t Want to Face About a Divided America”

What if Trump’s Behavior Isn’t a Moral Issue?

What if it’s about mental illness, and the moral issue lies with us?

Michael Stelter, CNN’s media reporter, recently spoke out about the issue he acknowledges the press has been tip-toeing around since Trump’s election. It’s time, he suggests to directly address Trump’s mental stability. While Stelter’s reporting itself tip-toes around the issue, falling short of naming “narcissism”, it at least approaches this elephant in the room and the challenges the press has encountered in not knowing how to report on it.

Since his election, I have been writing about Trump’s narcissism and the problem in the media of approaching his lies from a moral position assuming he knows how not to lie. The press’s own inadequate understanding of narcissism has long been half of the problem; its fear of reporting about the President’s mental illness has handily made up the other half. Continue reading “What if Trump’s Behavior Isn’t a Moral Issue?”

The Silver Lining: Trump and the Crisis of White, Patriarchy’s Archetypes

The silver lining to Trump and America’s white-patriarchal crisis.

In his recent interview with Bill Moyers, Ben Fountain, author of Beautiful Country, Burn Again, contextualizes Trump’s ascent to power within America’s (popular) culture, clarifying the ways our current political circumstances far from rose out of a vacuum. As an immigrant to this country and a keen observer of its culture, I’ve seen this truth as self-evident since the 2016 primaries. Fountain points to the popularity of J.R. Ewing — a Trumpian, villain proto-type — a character who, in the year I emigrated from England to the US, (1977), morosely captivated what was then still a fledgling, “global” popular culture. His image was so compelling my friends joked that I would surely return one day in a ten-gallon hat. J.R. Ewing and his tough, good-guy counterpart, John Wayne, hold sway as powerful, mythic white, male archetypes — the existence of which, in today’s evolving America, have become deeply threatened to their celluloid core.

J.R. Ewing from the TV series DallasFountain’s analysis begins to touch on the ways the Trump phenomenon is inseparable from the culture in which it was born. I remember hearing the predictions of a famous Vedic astrologer before the 2016 election that “America will get the president it deserves” — and we have. Fountain weaves connections between American popular culture, the failures of the American dream under its waking-life capitalism, and our propensity to escape, exponentially compounded today by the addictive appeal of our “devices”. Fountain is dead on here as he points to the complexity of the problems we face in this country; he makes it clear it will require much more than the time it takes for Trump to leave office to address them. (Assuming he leaves, which I still have some faith will eventually happen.)

However, there is something important missing in Fountain’s analysis — at least as it appears in this interview. American culture, its economic institutions, and this country’s values are infused at their foundation by the impact of a patriarchal worldview. As those institutions are increasingly threatened, the question is begged: What might be able to emerge on the other side? Continue reading “The Silver Lining: Trump and the Crisis of White, Patriarchy’s Archetypes”