Can We Really Know if Our Presidents are Fit for Office? | Opinion

After the tragic end of the 20 year war in Afghanistan, news articles discussing the mental fitness of the president of the United States have emerged. Questioning whether or not someone is competent enough to function as president seems almost passé at this point. Former President George W. Bush was often criticized for not being intelligent enough while former President Barack Obama was viewed as an inexperienced candidate.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former President Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and President Joe Biden have all been accused of being too old to hold office. Additionally, the trend of inexperienced celebrities converting their fan bases to voter bases increases the likelihood that suspicions of presidential fitness will continue to be a common topic of political conversation.

Having a large social media following or being a partisan political figure isn't demonstrative of a person's competency. There isn't a convincing screening process in place to cast these doubts aside. Without the ability to comprehensively vet candidates, we are forced to roll the dice each election cycle, hoping that incoming presidents will be competent while occupying the most powerful position on Earth.

In addition to not being able to accurately measure the competency of candidates, the unpopularity of each president results in sheer rage felt by the losing side. At any given time, half of the U.S. is wholly unsatisfied with the performance of their president, few people feel truly supportive of the president or candidates they are presented with and support for a candidate that isn't propped up by the Democratic or Republican Party is considered to be a potential spoiler vote.

This "lesser of two evils" mentality has created a perpetual cycle of inadequate representation and governmental gridlock.

The only issue that seems to unite us is our shared feeling of outrage for feckless politicians and the inescapable fatigue brought on by this mixture of celebrity, contention, fear and predictable political theater.

As comedian George Carlin said, "When you're born into this world, you're given a ticket to the freak show. If you're born in America you get a front row seat."

The cast of characters that populates our presidential freak show is fanning the flames of civil unrest more than ever by pitting citizens against one another to inspire the fear that gets them elected. Although it isn't inherently wrong for a person of fame or someone in good standing with a political party to run for office, it is worrisome that winning a social media or elite popularity contest alone is enough to become a viable presidential candidate.

Maybe this is who we are. Should we even dare to hope for new and improved leadership?

The presidential seal adorns a wall
The presidential seal adorns a wall at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. George Rose/Getty Images

Maybe American exceptionalism has finally run its course and it's time for this empire to decline like so many before it. It's certainly an option to sit back, watch and continue to complain about the cyclical freak show that decides our collective fate until the show's canceled.

While this option is tempting, the internet provides us with inexpensive, yet effective pathways to grassroots political organization that could improve the outcome of elections moving forward.

Instead of throwing up our hands and giving in to political business as usual, it may be worth looking into a more populist option for sourcing viable presidential candidates. While we are desperately divided, at this point it's worth turning over every rock—not necessarily to find the best leader possible, but to secure better leadership than we've had.

Social media provides us with a means to challenge and engage with candidates directly if we choose to use it for that purpose. Why not lean in and use this medium to our advantage?

The roadmap for a successful social media candidate already exists. Instead of waiting for celebrities with massive social media followings or a succession of unpopular, establishment candidates, we can focus our political activity online to encourage more alternative, populist candidates to come forward. Once candidates emerge, the public can challenge them in a variety of ways such as proposing debates between candidates, demanding candidates produce documents or records to verify their resumes, petition candidates to take the naturalization exam, or even design and publish presidential competency tests to take.

We can then follow and support the candidates that we prefer after they have committed themselves to be accountable to what we expect from our leaders. Massive online support grants candidates the stature necessary to be taken seriously by the mainstream media and this earned publicity can ultimately allow alternative, outsider candidates to be competitive in general elections.

So with all due respect to George Carlin, maybe we can do better, folks.

Marinda Ragsdale is cofounder of Mainstream Nation.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.