End the imperial presidency

  • 24 May 2016
  • NormanL
End the imperial presidency

The establishment, left and right, has been wringing its hands over the possibilty of a Donald Trump presidency a lot in recent months. But what so very few of these critics have addressed is the much bigger, far more sinister, problem: the presidency itself has become a threat to our liberty:

While writing or sharing articles that compare Trump to Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco, few if any have called on Obama or Congress to act now “to tyrant-proof the White House.” However much they fear Trump, however rhetorically maximalist they are in warning against his elevation, even the prospect of him controlling the entire apparatus of the national security state is not enough to cause them to rethink their reckless embrace of what Gene Healy calls “The Cult of the Presidency,” a centrist religion that persisted across the Bush administration’s torture chambers and the Obama administration’s unlawful War in Libya.

With a reality-TV bully is on the doorstep of the White House, still they hesitate to urge reform to a branch of government they’ve long regarded as more than co-equal.

They needn’t wait for the Nixon-era abuses to replay themselves as farce or worse to change course. Their inaction is irresponsible. Just as the conservative movement is duty bound to grapple with its role in a populist demagogue seizing control of the Republican Party, establishment centrists ought to grapple with the implicit blessing they’ve given to the extraordinary powers Trump would inherit, and that even the less-risky choice, Hillary Clinton, would likely abuse.

If undertaken in earnest, the exercise will prove uncomfortable. The establishment centrists who oppose Trump worry, as they should, that he will violate the civil liberties of Muslim Americans, yet few spoke up when Michael Bloomberg presided over a secret program that profiled and spied on Muslim American students, sowing mistrust while generating zero counterterrorism leads.

We have consistently, and sometimes even aggressively, given additional powers to the president. Any president, regardless of political party.

The result is a branch of government that looks much more regal -- imperial, if you prefer -- than small "r" republican. 

Rolling back the enormous powers of the presidency is the real challenge. 

We are often asked whether we think Candidate "X" will wreck the nation if he or she is elected to office. Our standard response is along the lines of America has survived civil war, depressions, panics, invasions, disco, and Jimmy Carter. It can survive Candidate "X."

However, the republic will not long survive if it allows the office of president to become more and more powerful.