Many of America’s school children are returning to school this week, having “celebrated” a week off that included Presidents Day. Traditionalists will always call it Washington’s Birthday. He was perhaps the last President that we had who deserved to be celebrated. Presidents Day should be a day where we question the power of the Presidency.
A recent commentary in The Week proclaimed Presidents Day to be the worst holiday. I have to say that I agree. “The American presidency is not something to be exalted. It is something that needs to be neutered”, said the author, Bonnie Kristian. Every four years we spend a couple of billion dollars advertising hyperbolic lies over who should “lead” us. It’s a process that few think works well and it elevates the office of President to something that it was never meant to be.
“President Trump can subpoena journalists’ phone records and call it “national security.” He can prosecute whistleblowers to discourage dissent. He can access mass amounts of warrantless surveillance on ordinary Americans, including triple the telephonic metadata the NSA was able to search before the so-called reforms passed as a result of Edward Snowden’s revelations. He can govern by executive fiat. He can unilaterally expand military intervention without congressional interference or any geographic boundaries. He can indefinitely detain people in Guantanamo Bay and other secret prisons. He can have a “kill list” of drone strike targets, that can include American citizens secretly assassinated without charge or trial. Some of them can even be teenagers neither suspected nor accused of any crime.
Trump can do all this and more — so, so much more — because the presidency he inherited from Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and their predecessors is, in the apt phrase of The Week’s Ryan Cooper, a turnkey tyranny.”
This is not a criticism of President Trump, but rather it is an indictment of the failure of Congress to maintain the balance of powers.
The President should be similar to a Town Manager: they should enforce laws, preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and nothing else. The office was meant to be an executive position. Starting with Teddy Roosevelt, more than 110 years ago, the office has been consolidating power into one person where none should have existed. What we are left with is power that is much too dangerous for any one person.
Writing at Fee.org last October, Barry Brownstein talked about Hillary Clinton’s “plan” as President. Brownstein rightfully points out that no President should have a “plan”. It is Congress that should be the source of legislation, not the Executive Branch.
“So limited were the powers of the president that Charles Pinckney, founding father and signer of the U.S. Constitution, argued against the impeachment clause in the Constitution on the grounds that the president’s powers “would be so circumcised” by the Constitution that presidential abuse would be impossible.
If the president is not to make plans for us, then what? … “Every day, ordinary citizens and entrepreneurs pursue opportunities. No one controls the myriad decentralized decisions and actions that, along the way, solve problems. We don’t need “problem solvers” to tell us the “winning plan.” We need planners and “problem solvers” to stay out of our way.”
Republicans are happy now that they are in power, but one day the fickleness of the voters will turn against them and they will put the Democrats back in power. For at least the next four years, Republicans can take retribution by using the power of the Presidency to crush their “enemies”. President Trump has promises to “drain the swamp”. That involves much more than firing people though. It means dismantling much of the Executive Branch’s power.
A truly transformational President would not consolidate power, but would demand that Congress take back the power that belongs to the people. Wouldn’t we all be much safer if our next President had no effect on our daily lives? That is what our founders expected. It is what we should expect.