The Hardest Job in the World
In May, John Dickerson laid out the challenges inherent to the presidency—and proposed a series of solutions, from presidential onboarding to vacation time.
I thoroughly enjoyed John Dickerson’s disquisition on the mismatch between the Office of the President and the president himself. He is certainly correct in arguing that the professional demands far outstrip the capabilities of any human being. Could I suggest an idea? I would like to reduce the number of political appointees in favor of professional career positions. For example, we could make all sub-Cabinet positions part of the civil service. This would mean the president would appoint only the Cabinet secretaries.
The president would be relieved of much responsibility; policies would not be subject to so much partisan whim; and the entire bureaucracy would be more efficient and better trained.
East Orange, N.J.
John Dickerson identifies the near-impossibility of organizing an administration in the time between the election and the inauguration. A possible solution to this is a constitutional amendment to replace Section 1 of the Twentieth Amendment, which set the inauguration date as January 20.
At the founding of the republic, travel was difficult. Particularly in winter, with atrocious roads, getting from the hinterlands to the capital could take a month or more. Because the votes of the presidential electors were not formally certified by Congress until well after the election, an inauguration date of March 4 was specified. Meanwhile, the formation of an administration was relatively trivial. George Washington had five Cabinet officers (including the vice president), each of whom had a handful of clerks, secretaries, translators, etc. Washington himself had a few private secretaries. That was the extent of the executive branch.
The situation is now reversed. Washington, D.C., can be reached from any point in the country within a day’s travel, but forming an administration of complexity takes months. Thus, a return to the original March 4 inauguration date makes sense. The amendment effecting such a change should also include the provision that the president-elect could submit Cabinet- and sub-Cabinet-level appointments to the incoming Senate for confirmation prior to the inauguration. This way, the new administration could start with much of its infrastructure in place on day one.
Steven K. Brierley
John Dickerson’s very detailed article confirms a suspicion that I have had for a long time: The presidency is an impossible job, and should be divided in half. The president would be responsible for foreign affairs and the military. The vice president would be responsible for domestic affairs and economic policy. Each person would be an expert in his or her respective area. The vice president would no longer be selected merely to “appeal to the base” or “balance the ticket.”
John Nance Garner, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first vice president, once commented that “the Vice Presidency is not worth a pitcher of warm spit.” Perhaps it is time to totally overhaul the job description, and in doing so save the presidency.
Okay. It ain’t easy. But competent people have accomplished the seemingly impossible with dignity for all but our most recent history. John Dickerson, don’t try to make excuses for a failed president. He is a complete loser, and we are all the worse for it.
I’m incensed that Dickerson didn’t include Hillary Clinton in any of his analyses. Like Mitt Romney (whom Dickerson holds up as an example of how to “hit the ground running”), Clinton spent her campaign trying to prepare for the office, which she was familiar with because of her husband. She won the votes of more people than Trump did, and yet you dismiss her as if she didn’t exist.
I am trying to read “The Hardest Job in the World,” and find myself continually distracted and irritated by the overwhelming use of male pronouns throughout the article. I tried to brush it off, but decided that I’ll take a hit for the team and be “that person.” The presidency, while seemingly a male position because only men have filled it thus far, is actually a gender-neutral job.
The world is changing and growing, and our language needs to reflect that. Words matter. Feeling like a welcome part of the conversation is important.
In May, Franklin Foer described how video manipulation is eroding society’s ability to agree on what’s true—or what’s even real.
Franklin Foer compellingly foretells the coming “collapse of reality” that will result from the degeneration of those technological mechanisms we now rely on for the unadulterated truth. Yet his choice of words contributes to the coming of the postmodern hell of which he warns. Foer consistently equivocates on the term reality, sometimes meaning the objectively true state of things and sometimes meaning our shared understanding of the objectively true state of things.
Reality in the former sense is not under any threat of collapse, no matter what the internet trolls and demagogues would have us believe; it is only reality in the latter sense that is threatened. By equivocating in this way, Foer undermines the idea that there is anything beyond our own idiosyncratic experiences of the world. If we are to resist the collapse of our shared understanding, we should not cede the word reality to irony or subjectivism.
Underlying Foer’s prose is a misguided assumption that “reality” is something we have access to or we don’t, something we can squander or salvage—in short, a commodity. This framing misses the lessons of philosophers from the last century, and does damage to Foer’s own evident hope that a reality can be maintained that is inclusive, responsive, and shared among a national or even global community.
Instead of treating reality as a commodity, we should talk about it as a community undertaking, an endeavor. It is collaborative, constantly renegotiated and contested. If it is conceived of as a commodity, the politics of power will divvy it out to haves or have-nots, spark malevolence, and drive do-gooders to start reality-preservation NGOs. But if reality building is more like gardening than mining, we can work to make it expansive rather than rush to turn it into an “ours or theirs” choice of facts with isolating, disconnected realities. The response to Elon Musk’s notion that we’re all in a computer simulation, and not in the “base reality,” shouldn’t be an offended cry of anguish; it should be a dismissive shrug. Who cares? It’s what we’ve got. That doesn’t get us off the hook for what we do with it.
Elias L. Quinn
Is the “collapse of reality” that Mr. Foer talks about a culmination of sorts of the American idea? If “I’m as good as you be,” as Emerson described this idea, it’s just a short jump to the notion that my reality’s as good as yours. Maybe we’ve been collapsing reality these past several centuries.
Borrego Springs, Calif.
Why Are There So Many Men Here?
In May, Caroline Kitchener published an article on TheAtlantic.com asking, “Why Do So Few Women Write Letters to the Editor?” The so-called confidence gap, experts told her, is one major factor behind the gender disparity in The Atlantic’s inbox and that of other publications. Readers wrote back with their own theories (and prescriptions): “Women don’t need more platforms to speak more often, louder, in greater numbers, etc. How exhausting. They just need men to shut up for a while,” one said. Jen deRose of Irvine, California, offered: “Women are busy.” Jeanne Lambkin of Marblehead, Massachusetts, thought that women may simply have “an extra helping of humility.” Find Kitchener’s full article—and the subsequent letters—at TheAtlantic.com.
“Will Disney Kill Off the Movie Theater?” (May) identified HBO Go as a subscription streaming service. In fact, HBO Now is the network’s streaming service for cord cutters.
To contribute to The Conversation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, city, and state.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.