There is an argument that arises, presidential campaign after presidential campaign, in forms ranging from the sarcastic to the strident. It goes like this: Maybe the U.S. should have a prime minister. Maybe the U.S. should even have a king or queen. Maybe the presidency should be neatly bifurcated, the governmental duties on one side and the ceremonial on the other: a constitutional monarchy, basically, only without the crowns or the thrones or the subtle side-eye from the ghost of George Washington.
The argument recurs, chafing though it may against most Americans’ conception of what their country is all about, because it is grounded in a broad truth: Americans ask a lot of their leaders. The presidency, at this point—an office that has been celebritized through the decades by the workings of mass media—is at once martial and executive and administrative and ceremonial. It demands that the person who carries the nuclear codes be the same person who pardons the turkeys. Exercising international diplomacy, throwing dinners, waging war, making memes, delivering soaring speeches, indulging in small talk on The Late Show, inspiring us, amusing us, consoling us, keeping us safe: All of these fall under the presidency’s ever-expanding job description. That makes the job an all-consuming endeavor—and it means that, regardless of his (and now, potentially, her) gender, the president has come to function as a kind of national host. If the country is an imagined community, the president is the person charged with welcoming Americans, day after day, into the national family.