The question in the title would be timely even if the “T” word had never become such a fixture in our public life. The past two years have simply forced an issue that’s been brewing for a good while. It’s astonishing, really, that nobody has tackled it earlier since it sticks out like a sore thumb. What we see playing out before our eyes in real-time is the contest between a traditional conception and a modern reality of the presidency. People have disclosed into public awareness things about the current presidency that leave one wringing one’s hands in alarm. Rex Tillerson gave a case in point by recounting his frequent need to say in his advisory role, “You can’t do that, Mr. President, it’s against the law.” Isn’t it odd that Mr. President didn’t know that? Shouldn’t such knowledge be somewhere in the job description? After two years of such shenanigans we’ve reached the point where the brokenness of the presidency should be unavoidable as a point of public policy for the future. The office is not, should not be a sacred cow. The bull currently in the china shop of the White House makes that point painfully clear.
So in the immortal words of Queen Victoria: “We are not amused.” It’s ridiculous to find oneself scarcely able to confront the prospect of political reality over the next two years without feeling the need for strong drink. It’s high time to take a look at the office as though it were a car with red lights flashing on the dashboard that tell us to find a mechanic, fast. Let’s get out the toolbox and see what’s wonky under the hood.
Houston, We Have a Problem …
During recent research on the historical development of the presidency I came across an article by Gene Healy originally published in 2016 on the Cato Institute website and reprinted just this January by Newsweek (here). The title is “Do Presidents Have Too Much Power?” Mr. Healy could well have been reading my mind. The more I researched the more I saw that the problem goes all the way back to the beginning of the republic. The members of the Constitutional Congress of 1787 had just gone to the enormous trouble of giving the military finger to an English king. The last thing in the world they wanted was to set up the president of their newly minted United States as his replacement. A look at the wrangling among the members of the Convention around the presidency shows that opinion was sharply divided. A majority of delegates decided early on that the presidency should be unitary (i.e. for one individual) rather than plural — and that was their first mistake IMHO. A plural presidency would have saved us a lot of the fuss and bother we’ve had with the institution, especially since the mid-20th century. Political reality in the modern world has become too complex and too demanding to justify a unitary institution — that’s my first objection. My second beef is that localizing the executive power in a single individual leaves the institution vulnerable to all manner of abuse. If you think I have in mind things that have happened since Inauguration Day of 2017, you’re right.
I’m hardly alone in thinking that a unitary presidency is a bad idea — the Antifederalists kicked up a huge stink about the issue way back in the day. The following citation comes from an Antifederalist letter from 1787 (text available here):
The citation shows just how much the presidency was conceived against the conditioning background of a monarchy, indeed in dialectical enmeshment with it rather than fashioned as something entirely new from whole cloth. That’s hardly surprising since at that point kings were the rule not the exception. One could go so far as to say that the Founding Fathers just tweaked the British structure a bit and made the king an elected position rather than a hereditary one. The letter shows a notion of the president similar enough to a monarch functionally that differentiation became critically important. Maybe that’s why it’s popped into the minds of some presidents that they should have the right to act as a monarch if that takes their fancy, taking their cue from Louis XIV’s famous dictum, “I am the state.” I call that trouble, yes sir I say trouble, with a capital T and that rhymes with dump. Or chump. Take your pick.
So what’s the story in the 21st century? Let’s turn now to Gene Healy, author of the book The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, published in 2008 (Amazon page here, also available from the Cato Institute as a PDF file here). He hits the nail on the head:
It’s no secret that the “most powerful office in the world” grew even more powerful in the Bush-Obama years. Both presidents stretched the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force into a wholesale delegation of congressional war powers broad enough to underwrite open-ended, globe-spanning war.
Bush began—and Obama continued—the host of secret dragnet surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden, and others we’re still largely in the dark about. And lately, on the home front, Obama has used the power of the pen to rewrite broad swaths of American law and spend billions of dollars Congress never appropriated.
America’s center-left papers of record have lately begun to notice that the vast powers recent presidents have forged would be available to Trump as well. The New York Times’ Carl Hulse writes that Obama’s assertion of a presidential power of the purse could have “huge consequences for our constitutional democracy.… How would lawmakers react if a willful new chief executive, unable to win money from Congress for a wall on the Mexican border, simply shifted $7 billion from another account and built it anyway?”
And a month ago, The Washington Post kicked off a series of half a dozen editorials warning what would befall the republic should Trump ascend to Real Ultimate Power: “A President Trump could, unilaterally, change this country to its core,” the Post’s editorialists argued, and the other branches won’t be able to stop him: “In the U.S. system, the scope for executive action is, as we will lay out in a series of editorials next week, astonishingly broad.”
Obviously the problem has only become worse since 2016, especially with regard to the immunity of a sitting president from indictment based on that DOJ memo from 1973 that everyone now takes as holy writ. It isn’t based on law or clear authorization by the Constitution, only on unilateral pronouncement by an agency under the executive branch pertaining to an official in the executive branch — and why, pray tell, does that not scream conflict of interest? I’d tear it up and say, “Nice try, kids, but no cigar. And here’s more news: you’re grounded for a month.” That lunatic policy gives the president a green light to get up to whatever mischief s/he thinks s/he can get away with. So much for the rule of law. So much for separation of powers. And all the Founding Fathers do is shrug their shoulders and say, “Not my problem.”
Let’s look at more of Healy’s article if for no other reason than to console ourselves with the awareness that in 2016 some intelligent people saw exactly what handwriting was on the wall. Unfortunately they weren’t speaking at national party conventions or presidential candidate debates, which were a spectacle of such appalling vulgarity and political absurdity that I hope never to see their like again in my lifetime. There were no voices of reason available during all that folderol, precisely when we needed them most. But they were busy publishing articles in out-of-the-way places like the Cato Institute. Healy’s clarity of insight makes itself obvious in the following citation from the end of his article:
In 1967, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., erstwhile court intellectual to JFK, and dean of the liberal historians, had a minor epiphany. As he put it in his journal, “It is evident now that this delight in a strong presidency was based on the fact that, up to now, all strong presidents in American history have pursued policies of which one has approved.”
There was an artful evasiveness to that third-person formulation: Schlesinger had earlier backed Harry Truman’s claim of unlimited war powers and would only publish his classic The Imperial Presidency when a Republican, Nixon, was in the White House. (It’s a shame when a man feels like he has to dissemble to his own diary.) But Schlesinger’s point stands: Partisan myopia forged the Imperial Presidency, in his day and ours.
Conservatives pushed for a stronger presidency during the era of the Emerging Republican Majority, believing they’d hold the office more often than not. They pushed even harder during the second Bush presidency, passing on a presidency with radically enhanced powers to Barack Obama.
Liberals, in turn, adopted a “what, me worry?” attitude toward unchecked war powers, so long as Obama was in charge, and cheered 44’s promise to govern via the pen and the phone.
But, as Jonathan Turley observed last December: “While the policies [one favors] may not carry over to the next president, the powers will.… The problem with allowing a president to become a government unto himself is that you cannot guarantee who the next president might be.”
It’s an insight that should be blindingly obvious to anyone capable of thinking past a single presidential election cycle, but one that’s seemed beyond the ken of most political elites.
If the next president can turn out to be a tyrant, then “tyrant-proofing the presidency,” in Conor Friedersdorf’s phrase, is our most pressing political task.
Amen to that last thought. The presidency as constituted by the Founding Fathers has morphed into something that would set their hair on fire. It strikes me as curious that the aura of a monarchy has accrued to the presidency in a way that hasn’t happened to any office in the legislative branches. Does a hush fall over the room when a Senate Majority Leader or a Speaker of the House enters? Certainly not. When the President enters, however, for some reason it’s a Big Deal. The fact that he’s an elected public servant constitutionally accountable to the electorate just like any other elected official is lost in the aura of majesty and reverence accorded to the office. It passeth understanding. What’s more, it’s dangerous.
People call the U.S. president the most powerful person in the world. That’s complete hoopypoop, of course, if you consider the presidency as a constitutional construct — it isn’t supposed to be any more powerful than the Congress. The morphing that has made of the president “the most powerful man in the world” is exactly what leaves us open to all sorts of dangers from a Napoleon who decides he knows it all better than anybody else and should therefore be free to do what he wants. Did the Founding Fathers have the word “guardrails” uppermost in mind when they busied their pens? I think not.
So Just How Bad Is It?
If I rummage through just the public-facing news I’ve digested over the past couple years, things look pretty bad. In saying that, however, I come back necessarily to primary objections: the lack of specificity in the Constitution about executive powers and the degree of uncertainty that vagueness creates concerning their limits. When I look at the gaping holes the Constitution leaves in the definition of executive power my hair stands on end. Knowing what we know about human nature in relationship to the acquisition and exercise of power it’s safe to say that if there’s any potential for abuse it’s bound to happen at some point. So right out of the gate we’re off on the wrong foot. Harumph.
Things from recent history make the problem so obvious you’d have to be an idiot not to see them. A good example is Nixon’s dictum, “if the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Had I been present when he uttered that statement my eyes would have rolled so far back in my head they’d probably have stuck there permanently. In this day and age I’d just tweet “WTF? AYFKM????” Here’s another item: the use of emergency powers to bypass Congress for expenditure deemed meet and right by the president but by nobody else. It shouldn’t even come up as an issue — and it wouldn’t if things were structured properly.
But who am I to disagree? Let’s take our cue from Conor Friedersdorf, a native of Orange County, California, so we can be dead sure he knows bright red when he sees it. He’s a staff writer at The Atlantic and is cited above in Healy’s article. In 2013 Mr. Friedersdorf published an article with the title “All the Infrastructure a Tyrant Would Need, Courtesy of Bush and Obama” (here). He made the following astonishing statement years before You Know Who entered the picture:
Combining the people who didn’t trust Bush and the ones who don’t trust Obama adds up to a sizable part of the citizenry. But even if all the critics were proved wrong, even if the CIA, NSA, FBI, and every other branch of the federal government had been improbably filled, top to bottom, with incorruptible patriots constitutionally incapable of wrongdoing, this would still be so: The American people have no idea who the president will be in 2017. Nor do we know who’ll sit on key Senate oversight committees, who will head the various national-security agencies, or whether the moral character of the people doing so, individually or in aggregate, will more closely resemble George Washington, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, John Yoo, or Vladimir Putin.
It makes you wonder if he was working with a psychic … He’s absolutely right, of course. Only seeing one yard out in front of you is always a bad idea when you’re trying to run something big, especially something like a federal government with over two million employees in over 430 separate administrative units including things like national security, foreign intelligence, the highest courts in the land and other such biggies. In so unwieldy an organization management risk rockets off the scale. One bad apple in that barrel in a high position with a DOJ memo claiming immunity from indictment and who can say how far the rot might spread or what its ultimate effects might be? Back to Mr. Friedersdorf:
America has stepped back from the brink in the past when wars ended. But we’ve never had a “war” go on this long — and there’s no end in sight. It’s time for the people to pressure their elected representatives, so that, through Congress, we can dismantle the infrastructure Bush and Obama have built. In less than four years, an unknown person will start presiding over the national-security state. He or she will be an ambitious power seeker who will guiltlessly misrepresent his or her character to appeal to different voters, lie countless times on the campaign trail, and break numerous promises while in office. That’s a best-case scenario that happens every time!
For once, let’s preempt that threat.
Man, I gotta get the name of his psychic … Between Inauguration Day in 2017 and the swearing in of the 116th Congress on January 3, 2019 we’ve seen the worst period of democratic backsliding in our history. We had Republican elected officials in both houses of Congress acting like courtiers at Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV. Who could have predicted such a thing in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave? Not I, that’s for sure.
In May of 2016 Mr. Friedersdorf revisited his earlier pronouncements in a new article in The Atlantic entitled “End the Imperial Presidency Before It’s Too Late.” He has a knack for putting a fine point on things, don’t you find? An admirable trait one wishes were more prevalent in the discourse of our public commons. His 2016 article is something of a jeremiad. In this the year of our Lord 2019 — after the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history and a string of speaking indictments from the Mueller investigation that leaves us all waiting in agony for the final shoe to drop — who can gainsay Mr. Friedersdorf his outrage? It would never cross my mind to attempt it. Let’s let him get it off his chest:
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 their warnings, even the prospect of him controlling the national security state does not cause them to renounce their reckless embrace of “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 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.
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 GOP, 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 abuse.
Another fine point on the matter — hats off to you, Mr. Friedersdorf. Such things need to be said but Lordy, it’s enough to send a girl scrambling for the moonshine.
What Is To Be Done?
Let’s start from the present and work backward in our search for correctives to the flub-ups of our Founding Fathers. They had their chance, now it’s our turn. We do well to begin with suggestions from Jeremy Suri, a professor at the LBJ School of Public Policy at the University of Texas at Austin in an article (here) adapted from his book The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office:
- Establish boundaries to the office.
- Return presidents to the role of educator-in-chief.
- Create another executive role.
Well, establishing boundaries is what the Founding Fathers tried to do in their own cursory way and goofed up by being too vague and by failing to imagine somebody getting into the office who would weaponize its powers. As for the second point, in all the things I’ve read I’ve never heard the president described as “educator-in-chief” so obviously I missed something — it’s an odd idea, to be honest, and makes the presidency sound like a branch office of Voice of America. That doesn’t at all sound like what the Constitutional Convention of 1787 had in mind. Point number three is Antifederalist to the core and makes part of me want to leap up and shout, “TOLD YOU SO.” The Federalist agenda for the presidency is flawed in the same way the Electoral College is flawed. I’d have militated unrelentingly in 1787 for a plural presidency rather than a unitary one. These days there are practical reasons for imposing that logic, as well, as Mr. Suri points out:
This history of presidential victory is the source of presidential failure today. It is a replay of the histories told by the Greeks and Romans. The power amassed by presidents over 150 years allowed the office to outperform its peers, and serve the nation, but now the scale of power undermines the office and its purposes. …
Donald Trump and his supporters are doing nothing to change this predicament. The same is true for many of Trump’s opponents. They are pretending that they can fix the problems of presidential gigantism by finding the right giant and giving him a few good ideas. That is just more of the same.
Like many other leadership positions in our society, the presidency is set up to fail because it has too much responsibility, too much power, and too many claimants on that power. No single individual, decision, or constitutional provision has produced this state of affairs, and the media is not to blame, either. The presidency has metastasized because it has been successful serving domestic and foreign demands in the recent past, and now everyone wants even more. The office is dying from its own undisciplined growth.
Spoken like a true Antifederalist. So let’s go back now to the horse’s mouth, more specifically to the person of George Mason (1725-1792, info here) and his opposition to a unitary executive. He got deep sixed at the Constitutional Convention and left (in something of a huff) without signing the draft Constitution. Here’s his objection to the unitary executive (full text here):
We have not yet been able to define the Powers of tbe Executive; and however moderately some Gentlemen may talk or think upon the Subject, I believe there is a general Tendency to a strong Executive and I am inclined to think a strong Executive neccessary. If strong and extensive Powers are vested in the Executive, and that Executive consists only of one Person, the Government will of course degenerate, (for I will call it degeneracy) into a Monarchy:A Government so contrary to the Genius of the People, that they will reject even the Appearance of it. consider the federal Government as in some Measure dissolved by the Meeting of this Convention. Are there no Dangers to be apprehended from procrastinating the time between the breaking up of this Assembly and the adoption of a new System of Government. I dread the Interval. If it should not be brought to an Issue in the Course of the first Year, the Consequences may be fatal. Has not the different Parts of this extensive Government the several States of which it is composed a Right to expect an equal Participation in the Executive, as the best Means of securing an equal Attention to their Interests. Should an Insurrection, a Rebellion or Invasion happen in New Hampshire when the single supreme Magistrate is a Citizen of Georgia, would not the people of New Hampshire naturally ascribe any Delay in defending them to such a Circumstance and so vice versa. If the Executive is vested in three Persons, one chosen from the northern, one from the middle, and one from the Southern States, will it not contribute to quiet the Minds of the People, & convince them that there will be proper attention paid to their respective Concerns? Will not three Men so chosen bring with them, into Office, a more perfect and extensive Knowledge of the real Invests of this great Union? Will not such a Model of Appointment be the most effectual means of preventing Cabals and Intrigues between the Legislature and the Candidates for this Office, especially with those Candidates who from their local Situation, near the seat of the federal Government, will have the greatest Temptations and the greatest Opportunities. Will it not be the most effectual Means of checking and counteracting the aspiring Views of dangerous and ambitious Men, and consequently the best Security for the Stability and Duration of our Government upon the invaluable Principles of Liberty? These Sir, are some of my Motives for preferring an Executive consisting of three Persons rather than of one.
Mason’s objections are conditioned by the fact that delegates from southern states like his own Virginia were slaveowners. His partition of the executive into a triumvirate had largely to do with demographic and political differences among the states of that time. The principle of a multiple executive can, however, easily be turned to the purposes of distribution of power that Mr. Suri rightly describes as the only way to make the full range of powers and responsibilities invested in the presidency manageable for ordinary human beings, since we have so few superheroes like Captain America applying for the job these days. 🙂
Let’s go down the list of powers apportioned to the presidency in the Constitution and see where they might best be placed. I’m using as my source the Wikipedia page entitled “Powers of the President of the United States,” but it’s flagged with the warning “This article possibly contains original research.” Oops. Sounds like You Know Who has had his busy thumbs into the pie, too, not just Kellyanne … Anyhoo, I’ll just use the section headings and take it from there:
- 1 Commander-in-Chief
- 2 Executive powers
- 3 Powers related to legislation
- 4 Powers of appointment
- 5 Executive clemency
- 6 Foreign affairs
- 7 Emergency powers
- 8 Executive privilege
Commander-in-Chief. AKA “Commander of Cheese” if you take your cue from Kellyanne Conway, who appears to have done her own original research into constitutional history LOL. In 2019 the U.S. military is a gargantuan operation with millions of personnel and a budget of $686 BILLION. Defense technology these days is quite literally rocket science. The deployment of U.S. forces requires massive coordination of information, intelligence and strategy across multiple agencies and branches of government in order to be well-informed, strategic and effective. And one person — currently a real estate developer/brand marketer with multiple bankruptcies and an inability to issue two consecutive tweets without misspelling — is supposed to handle all that? In millennial-speak, “AYFKM??” Clearly our current approach is a recipe for going off the rails.
Alexander Hamilton deserves our special opprobrium for getting that ball rolling down the wrong track. Hamilton parried objections to his strongman interpretation of the executive as Commander-in-Chief by asserting that the president would only act in that capacity if militias needed to be raised to face some threat of war brought to American shores, which was highly unlikely. In other words, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it.” But he wasn’t thinking about little red buttons and missiles with nuclear warheads, was he. So why should we take him seriously at this late date? He didn’t deserve that favor in 1787. His current success on Broadway just underlines the fact that he belongs in show business instead of politics. The boy can sing but had no clue about writing constitutions.
Executive powers. Jeez, where to start … The Constitution contains 4,543 words. I’m not even done with this post and it’s already at 5,120 words. The Founding Fathers defined an entire system of federal government in fewer words than I use to write a blog post on a single topic. Think about it: is that genius or madness? Think also about this: the U.S. Code currently contains 22 MILLION words. Now tell me, where is the bulk of the rubber-hits-the-road text about executive powers, in the Constitution or in the U.S. Code? If you’re statistically challenged let me help you out: U.S. Code. Can we read all the things about executive powers in the U.S. Code in a few minutes like we can for Article II of the Constitution? No way. Are we taught in our high school civics classes about all the federal lawsuits conditioning the extent and use of executive powers over the past 200 plus years? In your dreams. Just whose hand is on the wheel here? Let’s use Occam’s razor and assume that the simplest answer is the best one: nobody’s. The Founding Fathers get a big fat F on their Article II report card. Sad!
Another important point: the Founding Fathers devised the Constitution before party politics became the foundational feature of the processes of government. We now inhabit a political reality where party politics takes precedence over nearly every other consideration in those processes — just look at Mitch McConnell or Devin Nunes and see where your evidence trail tracks. Nobody’s hand is on the wheel until there’s a pile-up and the Supreme Court has to settle the insurance claim, assuming the Supreme Court isn’t so stacked by partisans that it too becomes part of the problem rather than the solution. Is that any way to run a country? I think not. Trained monkeys could do better.
Powers related to legislation. We’ve just had the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history centered around legislation and the presidential veto. The presidential veto is another Founding Father brain fart. Legislation is properly the business of the legislative branches. Did the Founding Fathers foresee that the presidential veto would be used by the executive in cahoots with the Senate to hold the entire government hostage through party-based collusion? Of course they didn’t. So it’s time to abolish the presidential veto and good riddance. But don’t think it’s just in our day that things have been wonky in that regard — here’s an interesting tidbit from the Wikipedia page on the history of the U.S. Senate (webpage here):
Joseph T. Robinson of Arkansas, the Democratic leader from 1923 to 1937, saw it as his responsibility not to lead the Democrats, but to work the Senate for the president’s benefit, no matter who the president was. When Coolidge and Hoover were president, he assisted them in passing Republican legislation. Robinson helped end government operation of Muscle Shoals, helped pass the Hoover Tariff, and stymied a Senate investigation of the Power Trust. Robinson switched his own position on a drought relief program for farmers when Hoover made a proposal for a more modest measure. Alben Barkley called Robinson’s cave-in “the most humiliating spectacle that could be brought about in an intelligent legislative body.” When Franklin Roosevelt became president, Robinson followed the new president as loyally as he had followed Coolidge and Hoover. Robinson passed bills in the Hundred Days so quickly that Will Rogers joked “Congress doesn’t pass legislation any more, they just wave at the bills as they go by.”
Yikes. Let’s move on otherwise I’ll need to hunt down another happy pill.
Powers of appointment. Hmm, maybe I do need that happy pill after all … Let me make this simple. In another post I cited an article by Stephen M. Walt published in 2016 in Foreign Policy with the title, “10 Ways to Tell if Your President Is a Dictator” (here). Here’s number 6 in the list: Stacking the Supreme Court. Mr. Walt offers the following by way of explanation:
Trump will likely get the opportunity to appoint several Supreme Court justices, and the choices he makes will be revealing. Does he pick people who are personally loyal and beholden to him or opt for jurors with independent standing and stellar qualifications? Does he pick people whose views on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and campaign financing comport with his party’s, or does he go for people who have an established view on the expansiveness of executive power and are more likely to look the other way if he takes some of the other steps I’ve already mentioned? And if it’s the latter, would the Senate find the spine to say no?
Instead of the that last question we should ask, “Does he have the complicity of a certain key figure in the Senate who will railroad his choices through the confirmation process in a manner reminiscent of a Mafia consigliere?” Or how about the appointment to federal agencies of secretaries drawn from the industries those agencies are supposed to regulate? Now there’s a recipe for effective and impartial governance for the public good. Or maybe the appointment of an Attorney General who has sworn loyalty to the president as a condition of his nomination? It’s only too clear: presidential powers of appointment are a BAD idea and should be removed from the executive branch. Appointments should be done by the legislative branches and by committee, not by an individual. I have no idea why it never occurred to the Founding Fathers that a crook who acceded to the presidency could appoint other crooks. True, they’d never heard of Teapot Dome, but in all honesty it’s not rocket science.
Executive clemency. For this item I need only supply one quotation: “I have the absolute right to PARDON myself.” That’s from You Know Who. No other case need be made for the removal of the pardon power from the executive branch and its placement with the House Judiciary Committee. I wouldn’t trust senators with it farther than I can throw them. That’s a no-brainer if ever there was one.
Foreign affairs. I could just copy and paste here the text from the commentary on “Commander-in-Chief” because it all applies, especially the bit about the job going to a real estate developer with multiple bankruptcies and ties to Russian organized crime traceable over decades. We’d do well to have the plural executive the Antifederalists wanted. Why not have a prime minister responsible for foreign affairs who has qualifications specifically tailored for that role? Does that sound like such a bad idea? Are we better off having whatever Tom, Dick or Harry lands in the presidency handling it? Take a look at the record of recent history and see what you think. We could also use an Independent Committee on Foreign Affairs composed of people from outside the legislative branches with members appointed by both houses of Congress on a strictly non-partisan basis — say ten members drawn each from a different policy area with appointments limited to staggered terms of five years. Role: advisory responsibility to the Foreign Affairs Committees of both houses of Congress. No more presidents doing the Napoleon thing when they’re barely competent to order a pizza, thank you very much — and take that, Alexander Hamilton, you tosser.
Just a sec, I need to find another tablet, brb …
Emergency powers. Time for another quotation from the very recent past: “If this doesn’t work out, I’ll probably do it, maybe definitely.” I rest my case. If you’re a hardcore Hamiltonian then you can have your president be granted emergency powers ad hoc by a Special Joint Committee on Emergency Powers constituted by members drawn from both Senate and House who carry around little red phones with them just in case. Again: no more presidents doing the Napoleon thing, thanks very much. It’s worse than the change of life. A girl just shouldn’t have to go through that more than once in a lifetime.
Executive privilege. Jeez, we’ve got citations coming out the wazoo here:
A beefed-up White House legal team is gearing up to prevent President Trump’s confidential discussions with top advisers from being disclosed to House Democratic investigators and revealed in the special counsel’s long-awaited report, setting the stage for a potential clash between the branches of government.
The strategy to strongly assert the president’s executive privilege on both fronts is being developed under newly arrived White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who has hired 17 lawyers in recent weeks to help in the effort.
That’s from January 9, 2019 (article here). Imagine that news brought by time machine to the floor of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and picture to yourself the resulting fracas. It’s a good thought experiment for imagining how the Founding Fathers might have done things differently.
OK guys, the label on my bottle of happy pills says only every four hours, so this needs to stop NOW. It’s been fun exploring the many ways our presidency has changed over the centuries and the many, many ways it could change to make the future better for all of us (and less likely to require recourse to heavy sedation). Let’s keep those thinking caps on and not be shy about sharing our thoughts with our elected representatives. After all, they’re working for us, right? 🙂