Social platforms can skew people’s perspectives on the reality of national and global events
The President of the United States is the most influential figure in the country, but do people really understand the power the office possesses? The amount of power the person in this position has is often deceiving due to factors like portrayal by the news media that lead to the peoples’ misunderstanding of this concept. According to a Jan. 11 poll of 178 students, fifty-five percent of students feel like they understand what powers the president has and doesn’t have.
The president makes a myriad of decisions in the government, including hiring and firing political appointees to the fifteen executive departments, carrying out passed laws, serving as the commander and chief of the armed forces, and issuing executive orders and agreements. While these are the main functions of the president, informally, the president has a great amount of influence on the people and the culture of the country.
“I think that while the president has the power to shape culture, the president is ultimately limited to the power that they, as an individual, have in our government, and that is exactly the way that the Founding Fathers wanted it,” Head of Upper School Henry Heil said. “The president, in the world as we know it now and we have known it for a while, defines culture, and I think that that is what the president has most of the impact on in our country.”
The only power that the president can carry out on his or her own is the issuing of executive orders and agreements. In an executive agreement, the president can form an arrangement with another country without ratification by the U.S. Senate, which a treaty requires. Executive orders are directives from the president toward an executive department of the government. Anything the president says, writes down, and even tweets or posts on social media can all be regarded as an executive order.
In reality, the president cannot do much for the country without the help of Congress. By being viewed as the country’s leader, however, the president has a great deal of influence on the population in what he says and does and how it is covered by the news media.
“The media is a really important part of our government and in a lot of ways, the media serves as another branch of government,” Heil said. “It does as many checks on our government as anybody else and sets the agenda for the national conversation. If the media is focused on presidential power or the abuse of it, that’s what the conversation is about. [President Nixon] was [one of many who] abused the small amount of power that he had to a certain degree in the eyes of a lot of people at that time, and went above and beyond what the president should be allowed to do.”
Sophomore Amelia Sinwell agrees that the news can have a large impact on how one views presidential power.
“I think the media does have a big impact on how the public views their president and his powers, and the public’s opinions in general,” sophomore Amelia Sinwell said. “I think a lot of times there are many news sources that are both left and right leaning, and people listen to what they want to hear.”
One prime example of a president who abused his power was thirty-seventh president Richard Nixon. During the Vietnam War, Nixon abused his power in his attempt to go around the law and secretly make agreements. Nixon knew that the public and Congress would not allow him to enact what he wanted, so, because the president is ultimately in charge of the troops, he sent them a secret order to invade Cambodia resulting in his decline in popularity. Punishment for the president abusing his power can range from being reprimanded by the public to getting impeached by the House and even removed from office by the Senate.
“I think sometimes the [person] in the position of the president can use [their] power malignantly and with bad motivation, especially with executive orders, because you can’t fight it most of the time,” sophomore Bridget Wang said. “In the case the person in the position of the president [uses their power malignantly], I do not feel like the amount of power is justifiable.”
Many other presidents have abused their positions, which has resulted in condemnation from the public, and in a few cases, impeachment for their actions. The media has always played a major role in politics in America. Propaganda and yellow journalism, which represents the newspapers that published information with little to no reliable sources, began to spread in the early twentieth century and has been a continuity in today’s world. Except now, people refer to it as fake news.
“The media absolutely has a major influence on the public,” Wang said. “Based on specific news coverages, the media can inadvertently manipulate how the public views certain topics, like the president and the power he holds, and especially because a lot of media is digitized, the audience is fed with information on a daily basis, and it’s hard to confirm and verify the facts.”
Fake news has been spread about every president since the founding of the country because biased news sources spread lies or take the president’s actions and words out of context to make them look better or worse than how they actually are. Furthermore, social media’s influence on people’s political beliefs is growing. Seventy percent of upper school students believe social media influences their political views.
“The media has a huge impact on how the public views the president,” senior Gina Wilson said. “Social media is a huge part of everyone’s daily life. It can be easy for the media to influence people’s views and how they view certain people.”
Ninety-two percent of students have seen a lot of people posting about politics on social media. Thirty-eight percent claim that this past year was when they started to see an increased amount of people posting about politics on social media. There is disagreement over whether posting about politics is productive.
“Students tend to repost a lot of fake news with no regards to the full context,” sophomore Blake Schienberg said. “Pages on Instagram like ‘Chnge,’ which [is a page] I have noticed has been posted a lot, have little to no impact on what actually happens and never shows the real story.”
Social media can be an unreliable source to find information about politics and the position of the president; the classroom acts as a more reliable space. In his government class, Heil teaches about all of the powers the president has and how different presidents throughout history have wielded that power, believing that this concept is important to know and understand the truth about the country’s government and its history.
“This fall particularly, we have been talking about the election, and I say, ‘Look at the end of the day, let’s remember that whoever is elected cannot individually have that much of an impact on our lives,’” Heil said. “I always lead with that because it lowers the stakes of the conversation of the election or the president. [By saying] ‘No one person can dramatically change the direction of the country’ lowers the stakes and makes the election more symbolic and less personal.”