The first two articles of the American constitution, very broadly, divide official power into two main sections: law creators and law enforcers. The legislature, made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate, has the power to “propose or concur with amendments [to] Bills” (p. 7), as well as propose new bills relating to taxation, national and international trade, immigration, finance, public services, courts of law, etc. (pp. 7-10). The presidency, on the other hand, has the duty of enforcing those laws passed by the legislature. The president’s true role is as “Commander in Chief of Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States” (p. 19).
This divide surprised me greatly. The president seems like, from an onlooker, the one with all the power– it’s they who appear in the media as the almighty leader of the nation. I could name at least ten U. S. presidents, whereas not a single congressman or senator. However, when reading the constitution, I get the distinct impression that the president isn’t really supposed to have that much power at all. In the annotations on the document, it is written that “Presidents have also cited [the] power [to command the American Army] as extending to their control of national and foreign policy in war and peacetime” (p. 19), but even so, any treaty proposed by the president requires that “two thirds of the Senators present concur” with the treaty for it to be passed (p. 20). His only large role, outside of militia commandment, is appointing other government officials (which is, admittedly, quite a big power). In essence though, it seems like the president barely does anything after all his officials are chosen (a choice that I rather suspect is made by other members of the president’s party, though I don’t know nearly enough about it to say for certain).
Basically, reading these articles has made me come to think of the president as little more than a public figure; a face to rally behind. Which makes sense– the Americans were specifically trying to escape the governance of a single, all-powerful person. I realize now how skewed my perception had been. The U. S. voting system is still very confusing to me (what voting system isn’t), but I think that people vote separately for congressmen and presidents. I would be curious to know what the difference in voting turnout is for those two things. My suspicious, based solely on the way I previously perceived the importance of the president, is that more people vote in the federal elections than in state ones. I would also bet that very few Americans actually know how their government functions, and that even fewer have read the Constitution. It’s interesting how much politics has transformed into entertainment, and honestly both shocking and worrying how many people’s political views can be boiled down to “democrats bad republicans good” or vice versa.
To conclude, I feel the most important thing I’ve come more and more to realize throughout reading the first two articles of the American constitution is that understanding how your government works is really important. Also, though, on a very tangential but very critical note, not all of your opinions have to conform to one group. Research, analyze, consider– form your own opinions, and if you end up agreeing with some conservative policies and some democratic ones, that’s fantastic. I’d caution everyone to think a little harder if they end up one hundred percent agreeing with any one ideology, and one hundred percent disagreeing with another. To bring things back around, my message is: don’t vote for a guy, vote for policies, and look into who actually has the power. The constitution makes it pretty clear that it isn’t really the president.