It really shouldn’t. Over the years Americans have attached an almost god-like reverence and celebration to the presidency.
At best the president should be a manager of the simple and limited affairs of the state. An equal with the Supreme Court and Congress. But people become enamored with power, both politicians who one assumes are perpetually power hungry but also everyday people who want to believe that the person in the White House will deliver prosperity, and perhaps more importantly, goodies to them.
Most of the power that presidents had amounted to steering some infrastructure contracts to their friends. And here, their corruption was truly revealed, but the damage they could do was limited. Their money came from a few small tariffs, and the tiny federal budget reflected that. Presidents were managers of a limited government that didn’t intrude into any intimate aspects of life, much less on the whole population. The governments these men headed had strict, meaningful, and practical limits on what they could do. They had no policy plans to speak of, because policy as we know it barely existed.
Leviathan as we know it had not been invented yet. That came later, in the 20th century. Whatever great ambitions of Gilded Age presidents, they couldn’t be realized through their official capacity. Therefore, the stakes of any one election were extremely low for the country at large. That’s why these men’s names are barely known. Even back then, hardly anyone paid attention to the presidency as such. The president was a caretaker, holding an honorary position, of interest to only those directly affected.
As bad as the candidates are this year — as threatening as each of them is to someone’s rights and liberties — none would pose a threat if the power to act on ambition were still limited.