Beyond, even, the 'imperial presidency' and 'divine right'?

Malcolm Redfellow

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Most obviously, but not only a US problem (vide: what seems to be happening in eastern Europe). Might better fit 'political philosophy' as an abstract; but I'm more comfortable in this forum, thank you.

My point of departure, of course, is the overweening ambitions of President Donald Trump, as listed by Charlie Savage in The New York Times:
President Trump, ramping up his assertions of extraordinary powers, declared in a tweet on Monday that he had “the absolute right” to pardon himself for any crime.

While no president has ever attempted to pardon himself, and it is not clear whether Mr. Trump could legitimately take such a step, the president’s claim was the latest in an aggressive series of moves to assert his control over federal law enforcement.

Last month, Mr. Trump crossed a traditional line by ordering an investigation into the Russia investigators. And late last year he boasted he has “an absolute right to do what I want to with the Justice Department.”

The president has had help in shaping his expansive view of his authority: For at least a year, his lawyers in the investigation into whether he tried to obstruct the Russia inquiry have been advising the president that he wields sweeping constitutional powers to impede investigations no matter his motive — and despite obstruction-of-justice laws that everyone else must obey.
Where to start with that one?

On one level it smells of Louis XIV: L'État c'est moi (which is 'attributed', rather than citable). Even when that was relevant to France, it was passé in our Islands history: when Charles I Stuart raised his banner and mustered against Parliament in Royal Standard Place, Nottingham, NG1 6FS, that was an admission that unbridled monarchical powers were gone with the diplodocus. And, we need to recognise, such concentration of authority in a single person had never prevailed across Ireland.

O.K., James II Stuart failed his brief shot at restoring that autocracy, and Stadtholder Willem III Orange used his Dutch guards to enforce his invasion, for a year or so; but the moment had gone forever.

Allow me to move on to 4th February 1789, when 69 'Founding Fathers' unanimously nominated to Congress George Washington as the first chief executive of the newly united States (note how I'm unsure how that properly be capitalised).

Because of the winter roads, Congress didn't become quorate as three months ensued. Ron Chernow (following up on Alexander Hamilton) produced another door-stopping biography on Washington. Here's his comment:
The Congressional delay in certifying George Washington’s election as president only allowed more time for doubts to fester as he considered the herculean task ahead. He savored his wait as a welcome “reprieve,” he told his former comrade in arms and future Secretary of War Henry Knox, adding that his “movements to the chair of government will be accompanied with feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution.” His “peaceful abode” at Mount Vernon, his fears that he lacked the requisite skills for the presidency, the “ocean of difficulties” facing the country—all gave him pause on the eve of his momentous trip to New York. In a letter to his friend Edward Rutledge, he made it seem as if the presidency was little short of a death sentence and that, in accepting it, he had given up “all expectations of private happiness in this world.”
Hamilton was the prime advocate of the necessity of an energetic Executive. His argument amounted to:
  • national security, the capacity to react to foreign threats;
  • consistent and legal administration;
  • the protection of the individual from encroachment by an oppressive government;
  • the avoidance of 'anarchy'.
Hamilton was long dismissed as a defender of aristocratic élitism, simply because he rejected pluralism at the top of the administration, had little faith in how 'the will of the people' might express itself, and opined:
In the legislature, promptitude of decision is oftener an evil than a benefit.
For all of that, and more, see no. 70 of the Federalist Papers.

The mid-20th century tested all that, and almost to destruction. The ultimate energetic Executive, in the New Deal and as war leader, was FDR. Hence, by the time of Nixon, Arthur Schlesinger traced the development of what he termed 'the imperial presidency', and convinced himself (and many of us) the presidency was already out-of-control and had exceeded its constitutional limits. Schlesinger argues that Hamilton's foreign-policy mandate had come to apply also to domestic matters.

The term 'imperial presidency' became current again with George W Bush and Barack Obama. By then it had come to encompass:
  • the power of veto over the legislative arm;
  • the sheer size of the presidential apparatus, and the number of administrators dependent on presidential patronage;
  • the use of 'executive orders';
  • presidential use of the military, even without and beyond consulting Congress (Nixon had ordered invasions of Cambodia and Laos; Bush used 'terrorism' as his pretext for years of deployment — and Obama went even further with covert operations).
And so back to that Charlie Savage piece, mentioned above.

The Trump presidency is moving further, this time taking authority over the judicial branch. Because the republican Congress had successfully deferred most appointments by Obama, Trump inherited whole swathes of judicial vacancies. As of this date, he has been able to nominate one Supreme Court member, 21 to the Courts of Appeal, and 19 District Court judges: a further 80 appointments at these levels are pending. All of these appointments are subject to partisan checks of 'political reliability' , ideology, and 'loyalty'.

So:
  • When is enough, enough?
  • Where do we go from here?
  • What, indeed, is to be done?
 
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McTell

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I have a feeling that this happened before, over and over, but we didn't have social media to know too much too quickly.

You have a flexible US constitution that has allowed for all sorts of devious men to make POTUS, but only for 4 years and with mid-terms. Their electorate was presented with a reality TV star with some form of ADHD, and they went for him.

The unwritten and invariable rule (known to a growing band as McTell's Rule) is that most yanks will always vote for the person with the biggest set of teeth, and his were bigger than Hillary's.
 

Lumpy Talbot

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I have a feeling that this happened before, over and over, but we didn't have social media to know too much too quickly.

You have a flexible US constitution that has allowed for all sorts of devious men to make POTUS, but only for 4 years and with mid-terms. Their electorate was presented with a reality TV star with some form of ADHD, and they went for him.

The unwritten and invariable rule (known to a growing band as McTell's Rule) is that most yanks will always vote for the person with the biggest set of teeth, and his were bigger than Hillary's.
Quite possibly the most interesting theory on US politics I can recall encountering. I'm slightly unnerved by how true that theory may be.
 

Lumpy Talbot

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Also implies that at some point the US electoral college will install a mule in the White House.
 


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