Created By: SledgesaulOctober 7, 2011 Last Edited By: SeroccoApril 11, 2013

Absurdly Powerful Elected Official

An autocrat in a democracy, legally or otherwise.

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Trope
In Real Life, there is the head of government, who heads the government, and the head of state, who is the public representative of a nation. Until recently, the lines between the two were merged together, and in modern-day examples, such as presidential systems, it's usually wrought with enough restrictions and limitations that it keeps the political head from seeming dictatorial.

However, in fiction, it's almost a requirement for a political leader to exercise authoritarian policies, utilize draconian methods of leadership, and/or obtain near-autocratic duties, allegedly bestowed upon them by the law. Enter the Absurdly Powerful Elected Official, who spearheads the government to such a degree that it makes an Evil Overlord Face Palm at how easy it is to be a despot. The main distinction regarding an Absurdly Powerful Elected Official is that, in a nominally democratic government, the official leader acts almost like a dictator, but it's not always a bad thing, and more often than not, they need to get 'permission' to exercise such powers.

Depending on the setting of the story, the Absurdly Powerful Elected Official is either in a Tyrant Takes The Helm story (especially when draconian punishments are enacted), a necessary evil opposing a far more tyrannical despot, or an authoritarian politician with a few limitations on their influence. In some cases, it may simply be a case of Fridge Logic, or even some Values Dissonance in regards to how a leader should be like.

Also can be a Man Behind The Man; the Absurdly Powerful Elected Official doesn't have to be the "official" leader of a government. The Absurdly Powerful Elected Official may be the adviser to the actual leader-representative, but the decisions that are made, the directions that are taken and the policies that are enacted, are all at the behest of the adviser. Alternatively works as a Dragon In Chief, where the managing of the bureaucracy falls onto the shoulders of a position that's nominally subordinate to a democratically-elected authority.
  • Baten Kaitos Origins reveals Alfard's Emperor is elected by the general public (a senate is mentioned, but never elaborated on), which make the fact that an emperor is able to casually order the execution of an entire village (which is part of Alfard) in the first game in an example of this.
  • The New Yorker once ran a cartoon of a man in a suit, behind a desk, using Force lightning (or similar) on the man in front of the desk (also in a suit). The caption was "The voters have endowed me with certain powers, Mr. (name), and I'm not afraid to use them!"
  • In Julius Caesar: Cassius and the other conspirators killed Caesar out of fear that he'd become one. Caesar himself established himself as dictator for life, too.
  • In Sinclair Lewis' It Cant Happen Here, a man gets elected President Of The United States, dismisses congress, and becomes a dictator.
  • President Clark of Babylon 5 became one rather quickly.
  • Time Scout has Senator John Caddrick. Just mentioning his name is enough to terrify people.
  • Vladimir Putin, the sometimes-President, sometimes-Prime Minister of Russia, but whether or not it's a good thing is a different matter entirely.
  • The office of Mayor of the Foundation over the centuries was at various times a normal democratic leader and during other times an elected dictator.
  • Harry Potter has the Minister for Magic. It's officially a subdivision of the British Parliament, but in practice, it basically functions as the political ringleader of the wizards.
  • In the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Palpatine turned the office of Supreme Chancellor into a despotic position, eventually culminating in the creation of The Empire.
  • Chief of State Natasi Daala of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, though she fits the draconian phase best. When Daala became Chief of State, she increased the role and reach of the Mandalorians; launched a smear campaign against the Jedi, arrested allies and sympathizers of the Jedi; placed them into carbon freeze; forced several Jedi opposed to her policies to publicly apologize for trying to defend themselves; tried to get Niathal to stand on trial for dereliction of duty; ordered the Mandalorians to attack the Jedi Temple; and dismissed her assistant when he called her out on her policies.
  • American presidents always have someone that ends up more influential to them than anyone else in the White House, and as the entry paragraph states, you can always tell by the decisions that are made and by the directions that they go, along with the way they play politics. That can range from members of the cabinet, to positions with cabinet-style authority.
    • In a Dragon In Chief variant, the White House Chief of Staff works as the manager for the President, selecting and supervising key White House staff members, structuring the White House staff system, managing the flow of information, controlling the flow of people into the Oval Office, protecting the interests of the President, and negotiating with Congress to implement the Presidents' agenda. As an analogue, if a President took a hands-off approach to governance, the Chief of Staff would work well as a Prime Minister.
    • Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt held control of the White House, the Senate and the House in a supermajority - the Democrats would easily pass legislation that was supported by Roosevelt himself. From the acquirement of emergency powers in response to the Great Depression, Roosevelt developed executive policies that heavily expanded the role of the United States President and the federal government in general. For example, staff members were chosen based on personal loyalty to the person holding the presidency, while new advisory boards were developed around the presidency, which complemented and even rivaled the cabinet in influence.
    • Republican President George W Bush mostly followed Vice President Dick Cheneys' advice during their eight years in office. In practice, it was as if Cheney was the President, since Bush let Cheney do most of the major decisions, until the last two years of his presidency.
    • In a departure from the executive branch, Joseph Gurney Cannon was the Speaker of the House of Representatives. At the time, the Speaker pulled double-duty as chairman of the Rules Committee, which determined under what restrictions that bills could be debated, amended and voted on, and in some cases, whether they would be allowed on the floor at all. Therefore, Speaker Cannon effectively controlled every aspect of the legislative agenda: Bills reached the floor of the house only if Cannon approved of it, and if he approved it, it reached the floor in whatever form he determinedówith he himself deciding whether and to what extent the measures could be debated and amended. Furthermore, Cannon reserved to himself the right to appoint not only the chairs of the various House committees, but also all of committees' members, and used that power to appoint his allies and proteges to leadership positions while obstructing those who opposed his legislation. He was later forced to resign by Democrats and dissatisfied Republicans as a result.
Community Feedback Replies: 17
  • October 8, 2011
    Fanra
    Ok, it's an interesting trope. But the real life examples you have given are lacking a few things.

    First off, in the USA, the President is both the head of government and the head of state. You sort of mention that but in the first lines of the description you seem to state that it is "normal" for them to be separate. Just because the parliamentary system happens to be more popular does not mean there is anything "abnormal" about having both offices reside in the same person.

    Indeed, until "modern" times, most rulers were both. Most Kings were both head of government and head of state. In England they began to split around 1721, with the Whig politician Robert Walpole.

    Next, the President of the United States only gains such power when the Congress and/or Supreme Court (the other two branches of the government) allow him to. If they fail to "have a backbone" or they just agree with his policies, he can do what he wishes.

    Removing a president through impeachment is a procedure mandated by most constitutions, but impeachment proceedings usually cannot be initiated except in cases where the president has violated the constitution and/or broken the law.

    Incorrect. At least in the USA, the President, indeed, anyone, can be impeached for any reason whatsoever, including if Congress doesn't like the color of his tie. Technically, the Constitution says, "...Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.". The reality, as seen during the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, is any reason at all, namely politics.

    Hitler and Stalin don't fit the trope description, since they did not rule over a democracy. They were dictators, and they were not elected. Hitler lost the election for President of Germany in 1932. He was later appointed Chancellor of a coalition government. He then used various maneuvers to force the government to grant him dictatorial powers. The bullied Reichstag voted itself out of power and granted Hitler total dictatorship, with only a rubber stamp re-approval needed every four years.


    • In fiction: The office of Mayor of the Foundation over the centuries was at various times a normal democratic leader and during other times an elected dictator.
  • October 8, 2011
    aurora369
    Vladimir Putin, anyone?
  • October 8, 2011
    Statalyzer
    Not a good trope.
  • October 8, 2011
    Statalyzer
    Not a good trope.
  • October 9, 2011
    DragonQuestZ
    And real life examples is just asking for trouble. Get some more fictional examples, and we would have something better.
  • October 9, 2011
    Serocco
    Joseph Cannon is a standout example for this, though, to the point where that's the reason he was forced to resign. Vladimir Putin is even called an autocrat in his profile here.
  • October 11, 2011
    surgoshan
    • In Time Scout we have Senator John Caddrick. Just mentioning his name is enough to terrify people.
  • October 12, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    I think this might be a trope, but I think the description is very negative and it needs to be fictional examples only or its asking for trouble.

    And 'impeaching' isn't the same as 'removing'. Bill Clinton was impeached (for lying under oath, not sleeping around). He wasn't removed from office, that's a separate thing (you need to be impeached to be removed from office, but if you are impeached it doesn't necessarily follow that you WILL be removed). Clinton didn't get enough votes from the Senate to be removed.(Don't know what nationality you are but Americans should know this stuff.) And Americans can technically get rid of any elected official whenever we like, it just won't happen/work unless there's sufficient reason to that enough people would vote to get rid of him. For one thing, the President was voted on by the people, for that vote to be overturned by other officials (representatives voted in by the people, true, still NOT the people), there damn well better be a good reason. Besides there are so many other people involved in the process of government that if we had a horrible president, there are all kinds of built-in checks that would obstruct him from being too destructive. And then of course there's the fourth amendment. If we REALLY don't like out government, we have the right to overthrow them if they aren't meeting our needs. That's why Americans are so attached to their guns, we need them in case we have to rebel against out government.
  • October 12, 2011
    randomsurfer
    In Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here a man gets elected President Of The United States, dismisses congress, and becomes a dictator.
  • October 13, 2011
    robybang
    In Julius Caesar: Cassius and the other conspirators killed Caesar out of fear he'd become one.
  • October 15, 2011
    elwoz
    The New Yorker once ran a cartoon of a man in a suit, behind a desk, using Force lightning (or similar) on the man in front of the desk (also in a suit). The caption was "The voters have endowed me with certain powers, Mr. (name), and I'm not afraid to use them!"

    If this can be found, I think it would make a nice page image.
  • October 16, 2011
    deuxhero
    Baten Kaitos Origins reveals Alfard's Emperor is elected by the general public (a senate is mentioned, but never elaborated on), which make the fact that an emperor is able to casually order the execution of an entire village (which is part of Alfard) in the first game in an example of this.
  • January 18, 2013
    elwoz
    Valid trope IMHO but needs more non-real-life examples (and probably a No Real Life Examples Please, yay politics)
  • April 7, 2013
    AmyGdala
    No real life examples - real life politicians aren't story characters.
  • April 7, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    One thing that does happen in real life (and is observed by Generational Theory) is that during crisis periods "extreme measures" are more likely to be taken by governments, and accepted by more of the people. Two US Presidents that have most often been critiqued as quasi-dictatorial (going particularly beyond the usual constraints and checks) in hindsight were Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt--who were also fairly popular (though by no means non-controversial--they most certainly had their enemies), and largely allowed to be "clothed in immense power" due to the very perilous crises the country faced during their terms. Political pressure actually compelled branches or figures that would otherwise check these executives, to allow more of a free hand to find a way out of the crisis--even granting more patience for trial and error (as in FDR's case dealing with the Great Depression).

    Now, given that a lot of drama is naturally set in periods of great conflict or crisis, chances are that leaders in such dramas may assume and be allowed similar powers. Some may be portrayed to truly have the best interests of their people and country in mind (often agonizing over their stark decisions), others... not so much. As in real life, it can go either way.
  • April 7, 2013
    aurora369
    Real-life examples can be justifiable by the Constitution of the country in question. If the country's Constitution makes the presidential authority absurdly great (it's called a superpresidential republic in political science), then this trope is in effect. No personal opinion, no flaming, no screaming - just a reference to the country's most important legal document, period.
  • April 11, 2013
    randomsurfer
    On Gor city-states are normally headed by elected Administrators, but in times of crisis (often a war) the city council will appoint a Ubar, who acts as war-general and dictator during the crisis. Once the crisis is over the Ubar is supposed to step down voluntarily, but oftentimes he doesn't. In which case, he is either deposed bodily or, if he has enough followers, he becomes de facto king of the city.

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