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There Is No Transfer of Power... We The People Will Always Hold It

by on January 12, 2017 5:00 AM

As one president prepares to leave office and another prepares to ascend next week, many people talk about the “peaceful transfer of power in American politics.” At every Presidential Inauguration some celebrate and others are downcast, but this year it seems to be more pronounced.

History shows there have been more controversial results in our history. On Tuesday afternoon, before starting to write this, I visited The Hermitage, the home of President Andrew Jackson. His first presidential race was not a success as he became the first candidate to win the popular vote yet lose the Electoral College vote -- a distinction he shares with just three other men and one woman.

Politics were personal then too, but what strikes us in 2017 is the trajectory of increasing disdain we have for presidents that we did not vote for. Mistrust seems to have filtered down from the increasingly harsh rhetoric in Washington politics. 

Respect for the office seems to have disappeared and that is unfortunate.

It’s easy to dehumanize a person in power. It is easy to forget that they may be spouses and parents. It is easy to forget that, like us, they grieve for lost loved ones and laugh with their children.

As President Obama prepares to leave office, for one moment, forget the politics. Whether you agree with him or not, he, like almost every president before him, tried to do what he believed was best for the nation.

We mischaracterize when we state that the president is the most powerful man in the world. Perhaps all presidents ascend to the office thinking that way but they quickly realize they are limited by the Constitution and the separation of powers and are the only term-limited elected federal official.

Presidents and citizens should realize that presidents hold the most visible job in the service industry. Amid ridicule and lies spread about them or their families they have to keep moving forward and continue to serve.

Maintaining dignity can’t be easy.

Despite what’s been said or written about him, in my personal interactions with President Obama I’ve found him to be a man of dignity, a man of great empathy genuinely interested in service and sincerely concerned for the fate of others. Others I’ve met, including President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Joe Biden, seem to be the same way.

President Obama also has shown himself to be a thoughtful decision maker, one willing to tolerate a short-term negative news cycle to realize long term goals. People who react to every negative story with an obsession over controlling all criticism do not last long in leadership.

From a personal standpoint, President Obama's two terms have been free of deep scandal. As with every administration there have been mistakes but there is a difference between scandal and mistakes. But we don't separate between mistakes and scandal if the person making the mistake is someone we oppose.

That adds to the volatility of our rhetoric.

Even President Obama has stated his regret at the coarsening of our political discourse. It started with Watergate, accelerated over time and took a hard turn toward a point of no return during the contentious 2000 election results and continued with the bizarre Obama birth certificate obsession.

It illustrates that some of us refuse to even accept the legitimacy of the person in office.

It happens because all sides now believe the system is rigged against them including a vast media conspiracy.

The system is rigged. It’s rigged for those who pay attention, relentlessly fighting, voting and staying on elected officials. It’s also rigged against those following blindly every edict spouted by someone simply because he or she has the right letter (R or D) next to their name.

Yes, there is a media conspiracy, but it’s neither slanted against you nor is it tilted in your favor. It’s skewed toward owners and shareholders of media corporations. The conspiracy is to produce profitable content, stories and opinions.

Don’t forget that we the people control content based on our media consumption. They react to our demand. So be choosy. Sure, it’s less fun reading about confirmation hearings than about alleged Russian intelligence on the president-elect’s personal life, or a Twitter storm about Meryl Streep.

But next week as a new president takes office remember it is but a moment. It is temporary. There is NO transfer of power in this country, because those who govern do so only with the consent of the governed. We only loan leaders the ability to make decisions on our behalf.

As time’s march turns the present and future into tomorrow’s history, nothing is ever final. The game never ends so spiking the ball with the lead or quitting when behind settles nothing.

In 22 months WE THE PEOPLE will still hold the power to evict members of Congress, state legislators, governors and many others. The next Iowa caucuses are less than three years away.

We cede nothing. Government power comes from our votes and media power comes from what we choose to consume. They serve us and everyone from the president-elect to our country’s citizens would do well to remember that.

We always retain the power for change, and that is non-transferrable.


State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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