President And Superfan

A reader writes:

I think the patriotism issue is related to the conflation of the Head of State with the Head of Government.  The American president is both of those things, formally and culturally -- going all the way back to the first President, who remains, more than any other historical figure, the avatar of America.  Contrast the prime minister in a constitutional monarchy, who is a policymaker only.  The degree to which a particular president's perceived embodying of the nation requires patriotic reaffirmation -- and bars him from calling us to national self-criticism -- varies with the historical conditions of the moment.  When, as now, we're feeling embattled, unsure of our country's primacy (and its righteousness), more of us neurotically demand that the president be the face-painted superfan.

The current administration has calculatingly stoked this need for its own political gain, and happily gratified it, too.  But in more confident times (and when presidents have truly led), Americans have embraced a president who adheres to Teddy Roosevelt's view that "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."  (TR would no doubt have agreed with the converse, which is what we're discussing here, i.e., that it is equally unpatriotic and servile to demand that the president uncritically "stand by" the country.)  What an irony if our rejection of monarchy has led to a state of affairs where our elected executive's duty to provide an honest diagnosis of the nation's condition is hamstrung by the demand that he function -- like the Queen -- as a patriotic symbol.  For most of my lifetime, we've been a better, more (small "r") republican people than that.  I audaciously hope that our next President will bring us back to that place.