(bright music) - Should we have a president?
I'm not entirely sure.
- I think it's very important to have a president, somebody that can lead the country.
- Presidential democracies don't work.
- We have a system of checks and balances, with the three branches of government.
- And I think knowing better, we wouldn't pick a presidential democracy.
- In America, we spend a staggering amount of time talking about the president and it might be a terrible idea.
(paper ripping) This isn't just a comment about our current president, this is a comment about all presidents, because we all know how the country works today.
No matter who is in the White House half of the country thinks the world is going to end and we act like it.
(protesters chanting) - So, is this rational?
Or maybe, are we letting our brains get hacked?
Would you say the symbolism of the presidency when it was created, has it changed to what it is now?
- Certainly, the focus on the presidency is way more intense than it was ever imagined.
- Presidents may take credit for the success of our economy, our schools, and everything else, but there's not a lot of evidence they deserve it.
And yet, we spend, at a minimum, one year out of every four, arguing about who should be president, and then we spend at least the next three years arguing about what they're doing once they get there.
If you made a pie chart of our collective civic brain, a huge slice would be spent on selecting and arguing about our head of state, but if you made another pie chart of all the elected officials who influence our lives, the president would barely register.
What is the impact of local politics on our immediate community compared to the presidency?
- The presidency gets a lot of national media attention, but in terms of the fabric of our lives, we're usually living with the policies and decisions of local and state government.
- One of the things that makes America really unique is the separation of powers, and I don't mean just between the president, the Congress, and the Supreme Court.
We have regional separations between states, counties, cities, townships, school districts.
- We get a lot of federal dollars for transportation in Minnesota, but Minnesota has to decide how those dollars are going to be spent.
What roads are we going to pave?
What bridges are we going to fix?
What transit are we going to invest in?
So I think if you stop at the federal level, you say I want you to decide what's going to come to this state but I don't want to have any say in how that's going to be rolled out in my state or how that's going to be implemented here.
- Forget Washington.
In America, we have governors, state representatives, county commissioners, mayors, and school boards, literally thousands and thousands of elected officials who get to decide what our school systems look like, what happens if we get arrested, and even where we can build our garages.
- The most day-to-day things that impact your life are decisions that are made by your locally elected officials.
So our education system is overwhelmingly decided at the state level.
How we set things up, how businesses are invested in, that's really at your state and your county, and then at your city level.
- These are all people we get to vote for, but how much time do we spend thinking about them?
Compared to the president, it's not even close.
- [Newscaster] 13 more, 270 to be elected president of the United States, Hillary... - What we do know is that politically speaking, the presidency controls our brains, and you can track this through media analytics.
- The number of times we mention the president in the minutes we spend debating his or her actions in this sense, the brain space, the president is hugely influential because for many of us, it's the only elected office we hear about in the news.
- The White House releasing copies of President Obama's original long-form birth certificate.
- The president is ramping up battle on the economic front.
- Their marriage, she was upset because he dented the Clinton brand again.
- You know we all have the same president, right?
So it's a little bit easier for national media to cover something we all share, but the things that impact day-to-day lives those decisions are made by locally elected officials.
- Unfortunately, a lot of local races there's not a lot of money that is put into them, and so a lot of mayors have other jobs.
They have families; A lot of those local officials don't have the capacity, like a national election, to spend money to get voting cards out, and get commercial ads out, and things like that.
And so, what ends up happening is that unless they are able to go to every door, people might not even know there's a race going on.
- So what can we do, as the media, to alleviate this problem?
- The work ahead is changing the media focus and you know, I've talked to plenty of reporters and editors and what they say is hey, we're innocent, here.
We're going where the customer, the audience member wants to see.
It's going to take a big movement of people in communities saying hey, we take these issues that are being decided here in our neighborhood seriously.
We're showing up for elections.
We're going to hold our officials accountable, and we expect the media to give presidential attention to local issues.
- So let's just ask the question: What would happen if we got rid of the presidency altogether?
- I think we should have a president because they are the commander-in-chief.
- I think there needs to be leadership in the executive branch.
- I think it's easier for the nation to look towards one leader.
- Now you'd obviously be giving up on a lot of our story.
I mean, the symbolism of the presidency is as American as it gets.
It's the song; it's the money.
It's what school kids say they want to be, but if we're being honest, we'd also be freeing up a lot of cognitive horsepower, in the news, in our social media, even in our private dinner conversations, and the argument can be made that if we spent all this mental real estate on other issues, well we'd probably be a lot less frustrated with our schools, our prisons, and our garages.
- You know, when we look at the issues that are so divisive in the national media, we get an opportunity, at a local and state level, to engage in conversations that are more personal, more one-on-one.
If you are passionate about a topic and you want to engage, that's where you're going to make, I think, the biggest impact and the biggest difference is by talking to your neighbors and your locally elected officials.
- Now to be fair, we probably want to maintain the checks and balances within our federal government, but what alternatives to a president are out there?
- You travel to Europe, and you're going to see parliamentary system in which the power is in the legislative branch.
The legislative branch decides to select who's going to be in the cabinet and who will be the prime minister of that cabinet, who then becomes the symbolic leader, but in terms of power, the prime minster is one among equal in the cabinet.
- Maybe our president could be a group of randomly selected citizens.
Maybe it could be the governor of a state, each one serving a one month term.
Or maybe it could be something like those Vulcan councils you see on Star Trek.
Some of these other possibilities would prevent us from arguing endlessly over a personality we don't really control, and a personality that arguably doesn't control us.
- There's no doubt that the president casts a large and dark shadow over what is going on in America, and certainly, the issues that come up in local politics, one of the reasons that citizens may not be giving as much attention to the local decision-making is because they assume that it's being taken care of somewhere else.
- Okay, I totally understand that right now, as you're watching this or listening to this, you may feel a little bit angry or ticked off, and that's totally understandable.
I mean, to ask the question: do we even need a presidency?
Yeah, it might be a little enraging, but that's one of the great things about this country that we can even ask that question.
Look, we've just shown you evidence that we spend an unbalanced amount of attention on the presidency.
The question is: how do we fill the greater space of politics?
Think about your local politics and how it affects your immediate life.
How do you feel about that?
What do you think?
Hey everybody, this is Toussaint Morrison.
In our next episode, we're going to discuss should we rewrite our Constitution.
If you want to be a part of that video, send us your opinion in the link below in the description, and as always, don't forget to subscribe.
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