How Much Does the President Really Impact My Life?

One November day in 2016, the Canadian immigration website crashed repeatedly, due to a massive influx of site users. Simultaneously, Google searches for “move to Canada” saw a sudden spike [1]. Why? It was election night in the U.S., and Donald Trump was taking the lead.

Here in America, we like to believe that power ultimately resides with the people, but we also place a great deal of trust in our president. As the above incident illustrates, a decent number of us think that who we put in this position of power impacts our lives, so much so that leaving the country sounds like a good option if it’s not our chosen candidate. But how much does the president affect the daily lives of most Americans? While the position undoubtedly comes with a great deal of power, how noticeable and impactful is that power on the minute details of individual citizens’ lives?

For the sake of brevity, let’s zero in on the economy. According to the LA Times, “A good economy at the time of the election has a positive effect on votes for the incumbent party candidate” [2]. Essentially, we are more likely to reelect the president, or a member of that president’s party,  if the economy is doing well. We believe that a good president creates more jobs and keeps businesses thriving.

Studies show there’s some merit to that idea. A president is, according to the NY Times,  responsible for “appointing Federal Reserve governors, steering fiscal and regulatory policy,  [and] responding to crises and external shocks” [3]. The Founders never intended for the president to be a useless figurehead, so they made sure the President had some significant power to impact the country. However, the economy isn’t something that just turns on a dime; often, the policies that presidents put in place don’t start affecting the economy until years later, when they’re out of office [4].

Take, for example, the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. When Bush stepped into office in 1989, expansion of the 1980s was peaking, leaving the economy with nowhere to go but down. Conversely, Clinton was greeted by a higher unemployment rate (7.3 percent), and the United States was pulling out of a recession, heading up. Although the economy had far more to do with each president’s entry timing rather than his policies, Bush ended up getting only one term, while Clinton got two.

Any president, while they do have power, probably won’t manage to damage the economy beyond repair before their term is up, and also can’t miraculously pull us out of a slump if we’re headed that way. But let’s take a closer look at that third economic power that presidents possess: “responding to crises and external shocks.” 

If the country is dealt a crushing, devastating blow, that somehow has the potential to eliminate thousands of jobs and keep people from regular employment, then the president’s actions largely determine how the country will react to such a disaster. So how is our president reacting to the disastrous pandemic that America is currently facing?

President Trump decided not to fully fund the CDC’s budget two years ago, in turn forcing the CDC to scale back disease prevention efforts in “some of the world’s hot spots for emerging infectious disease, such as China, Pakistan, Haiti, Rwanda and Congo” [5]. Underfunding the CDC set us back before COVID-19 became a reality, but even once it arrived here, the prevention response of the United States was fatally slow. When COVID hit other countries, like South Korea, their governments reacted by stockpiling protective equipment; our president stated that he would not act as the country’s “shipping clerk” [6].

While President Trump claims that boosting the economy is one of his goals, statistics from the last few pandemic months don’t show success in that regard. The U.S. unemployment rate, which was at 3.5 percent in February, jumped to 14.7 percent in April. This wasn’t an inevitable outcome, or a natural result of the pandemic; the U.S. is doing far worse than other developed countries around the world. For comparison, Australia’s unemployment rate increased from 5.1 percent to 6.2, while Germany went from 5.0 percent to 5.8 percent, all over the same period of time [7].

This is a unique time, one in which our government holds more power and has a greater ability to affect our day-to-day lives than they normally would. We need a president who will take the pandemic seriously. We need a president who will respond compassionately, with more concern for the lives of American citizens than for his own reelection. We need a population that exercises their right to vote, so get out there (or stay in, if you’re a mail-in ballot kind of person), and vote for someone equipped to react to a global crisis.

Sources:

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/09/canadas-immigration-website-crashes-as-donald-trumps-us-election-lead-grows

[2]https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0527-fair-election-prediction-20150527-story.html

[3]https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/17/upshot/presidents-have-less-power-over-the-economy-than-you-might-think.html

[4]https://www.npr.org/2018/09/12/646708799/fact-check-who-gets-credit-for-the-booming-u-s-economy

[5]https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/02/01/cdc-to-cut-by-80-percent-efforts-to-prevent-global-disease-outbreak/

[6]https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/19/trump-governors-coronavirus-medical-supplies-137658
[7]https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/news/2020/06/03/485806/5-ways-trump-administrations-policy-failures-compounded-coronavirus-induced-economic-crisis/

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Ali Wood

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