The Increasingly Dangerous Presidency

Paul Johnson says, in his biography of Washington, that in 1789, the only monarch with powers as wide as the president's was the czar.  All the other ones were hemmed in by regulations.  Johnson doesn't go too far into detail about it, but why take his word when we can see it right in front of us?

In the last eight years, we found that the president can put grown men into little girls' locker rooms; that he can pay enemy states hundreds of billions in ransom cash; that he can flood our states with millions of Africans and Middle Easterners; that he can make or unmake the border at whim; that he can grant citizenship to illegal aliens; that he can pardon scores of drug-dealers; that he can veto almost every bill; that he can station troops in any town; that he can put off the payment of payroll taxes; that he can effectively bribe the unemployed with hundreds of dollars a week; that (according to Democrats) he should lock the country down and not allow anyone "non-essential" to run a business; that he can bomb people in countries we're not at war with; and that he can spy on the next presidential candidate and walk away unscathed.

Many of these things are done in "an emergency."  But who decides what constitutes an emergency?  He does.  Not like the Romans, whose Senate decided, in extreme cases, that only a dictator could save them.  They would get themselves in a pickle and pick somebody to do anything, for a very short time, so they could continue existing.  But the president doesn't have anyone to tell him we're in an existential crisis.  He is the existential crisis.  If he decides that anyone in the whole nation, from transgender kids to illegal aliens to black criminals, is in danger, suddenly, your daughter is in danger.

Johnson says Washington's goodness was to blame for this.  He was so moderate and well behaved that people imagined him in the pilot's seat and didn't imagine a Barack Obama, or a Donald Trump, or a Kamala Harris.  They believed too highly in the goodness of man — but you have to, in some measure.  There's no government in the world that can run well when the Supreme Court is full of activists and not judges; when Congress is full of enemies and sellouts; when the public is ignorant, immoral, and increasingly distracted.  You can save a people from the government, but you can't save a government from the people.  

How we're supposed to keep a presidency in check is anybody's guess, but it has to be done, and soon — and this means a constitutional amendment.  We praise the Founding Fathers for their wisdom but forget that this wisdom was stitched together, on the fly, during centuries of emergencies.  It was just as much tradition as it was an invention.  King John wanted to throw people in jail for personal reasons.  That's why we have habeas corpus.  King Charles I wanted to dictate with a standing army.  That's why Congress holds the power of taxation.  King James II tried to change the state religion.  That's one reason we have a First Amendment.  None of these rights was defensible unless the public was ready to kill officials.  This is why we have the Second Amendment.  

Every right we ever had was invented because somebody else got brutalized.  Every inch of progress we gained was because somebody went six feet under.  I believe that our Founding Fathers were great men and ought to be revered.  But we have our own emergencies, and the Constitution wasn't engraved on stone tablets by the finger of God.  Ben Franklin said, as the Constitution was being signed, that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present.  Would we call this Constitution perfect, when the people who made it said it wasn't?  Would we grant kingship to Caesar when we know full well he was followed by Nero and Caligula?  

The Founding Fathers were right about one thing here, and that's that inability, in the executive power, is also dangerous.  Who can tell the president exactly how to act when life is throwing new crises at us willy-nilly?  He has to be able to assess things and move, relatively unhampered, or the whole country will be over before Congress ever drafts a bill.  Executive power requires good judgment and on-the-fly thinking.  There is no precedent for a perfect president.  History offers examples, situations, and anecdotes but not re-runs.  There are always guidelines, but no guarantees.  He does his best, and if he's smart, he prays to God.

But too much freedom for the president means slavery for the rest of us.  What we have to remember is that the presidential power is like any other quality we love.  Every principle is broken, sooner or later, not just by immorality, but by the other principles.  So yes, we believe in property — but do we believe in just one man owning it?  Yes, we're against divorce — but do we believe in wife-beating?  Yes, we believe in freedom of speech — but do we believe in fraud?  Yes, we believe in charity — but do we give to strangers instead of our children?  Like justice and mercy, or liberty and equality, the goodness of each thing lies more in the balance and the timing than in total possession.  Each side treads on the other artfully so we don't end up losing both.  A radical appears to believe more strongly in principles, not because he has more, but because he has fewer.  His belief in one is in direct proportion to how little he believes in the others.    

This philosophy should be applied to the presidency.  We need both leeway and restriction, and if we plan right, we can have them.  For instance, create an executive council, elected by the Senate, comprising of three Democrats and three Republicans.  No executive order can be given without a "yes" vote from four of them.  We can hold a yearly vote against these counselors; and if 60% of the public hates one, we can impeach him.  To protect them from party machinations, these counselors will swear off all contact with any member of Congress — or even each other, except at meetings for executive orders.  If anyone contacts them on behalf of any member of Congress, that person will be fined $1,000,000 or spend three years in prison.  

This is the best I've got, but I'm not a Founding Father, and would love to hear more helpful suggestions.

Jeremy Egerer is the author of the troublesome essays on Letters to Hannah, and he welcomes followers on Twitter and Facebook.

Paul Johnson says, in his biography of Washington, that in 1789, the only monarch with powers as wide as the president's was the czar.  All the other ones were hemmed in by regulations.  Johnson doesn't go too far into detail about it, but why take his word when we can see it right in front of us?

In the last eight years, we found that the president can put grown men into little girls' locker rooms; that he can pay enemy states hundreds of billions in ransom cash; that he can flood our states with millions of Africans and Middle Easterners; that he can make or unmake the border at whim; that he can grant citizenship to illegal aliens; that he can pardon scores of drug-dealers; that he can veto almost every bill; that he can station troops in any town; that he can put off the payment of payroll taxes; that he can effectively bribe the unemployed with hundreds of dollars a week; that (according to Democrats) he should lock the country down and not allow anyone "non-essential" to run a business; that he can bomb people in countries we're not at war with; and that he can spy on the next presidential candidate and walk away unscathed.

Many of these things are done in "an emergency."  But who decides what constitutes an emergency?  He does.  Not like the Romans, whose Senate decided, in extreme cases, that only a dictator could save them.  They would get themselves in a pickle and pick somebody to do anything, for a very short time, so they could continue existing.  But the president doesn't have anyone to tell him we're in an existential crisis.  He is the existential crisis.  If he decides that anyone in the whole nation, from transgender kids to illegal aliens to black criminals, is in danger, suddenly, your daughter is in danger.

Johnson says Washington's goodness was to blame for this.  He was so moderate and well behaved that people imagined him in the pilot's seat and didn't imagine a Barack Obama, or a Donald Trump, or a Kamala Harris.  They believed too highly in the goodness of man — but you have to, in some measure.  There's no government in the world that can run well when the Supreme Court is full of activists and not judges; when Congress is full of enemies and sellouts; when the public is ignorant, immoral, and increasingly distracted.  You can save a people from the government, but you can't save a government from the people.  

How we're supposed to keep a presidency in check is anybody's guess, but it has to be done, and soon — and this means a constitutional amendment.  We praise the Founding Fathers for their wisdom but forget that this wisdom was stitched together, on the fly, during centuries of emergencies.  It was just as much tradition as it was an invention.  King John wanted to throw people in jail for personal reasons.  That's why we have habeas corpus.  King Charles I wanted to dictate with a standing army.  That's why Congress holds the power of taxation.  King James II tried to change the state religion.  That's one reason we have a First Amendment.  None of these rights was defensible unless the public was ready to kill officials.  This is why we have the Second Amendment.  

Every right we ever had was invented because somebody else got brutalized.  Every inch of progress we gained was because somebody went six feet under.  I believe that our Founding Fathers were great men and ought to be revered.  But we have our own emergencies, and the Constitution wasn't engraved on stone tablets by the finger of God.  Ben Franklin said, as the Constitution was being signed, that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present.  Would we call this Constitution perfect, when the people who made it said it wasn't?  Would we grant kingship to Caesar when we know full well he was followed by Nero and Caligula?  

The Founding Fathers were right about one thing here, and that's that inability, in the executive power, is also dangerous.  Who can tell the president exactly how to act when life is throwing new crises at us willy-nilly?  He has to be able to assess things and move, relatively unhampered, or the whole country will be over before Congress ever drafts a bill.  Executive power requires good judgment and on-the-fly thinking.  There is no precedent for a perfect president.  History offers examples, situations, and anecdotes but not re-runs.  There are always guidelines, but no guarantees.  He does his best, and if he's smart, he prays to God.

But too much freedom for the president means slavery for the rest of us.  What we have to remember is that the presidential power is like any other quality we love.  Every principle is broken, sooner or later, not just by immorality, but by the other principles.  So yes, we believe in property — but do we believe in just one man owning it?  Yes, we're against divorce — but do we believe in wife-beating?  Yes, we believe in freedom of speech — but do we believe in fraud?  Yes, we believe in charity — but do we give to strangers instead of our children?  Like justice and mercy, or liberty and equality, the goodness of each thing lies more in the balance and the timing than in total possession.  Each side treads on the other artfully so we don't end up losing both.  A radical appears to believe more strongly in principles, not because he has more, but because he has fewer.  His belief in one is in direct proportion to how little he believes in the others.    

This philosophy should be applied to the presidency.  We need both leeway and restriction, and if we plan right, we can have them.  For instance, create an executive council, elected by the Senate, comprising of three Democrats and three Republicans.  No executive order can be given without a "yes" vote from four of them.  We can hold a yearly vote against these counselors; and if 60% of the public hates one, we can impeach him.  To protect them from party machinations, these counselors will swear off all contact with any member of Congress — or even each other, except at meetings for executive orders.  If anyone contacts them on behalf of any member of Congress, that person will be fined $1,000,000 or spend three years in prison.  

This is the best I've got, but I'm not a Founding Father, and would love to hear more helpful suggestions.

Jeremy Egerer is the author of the troublesome essays on Letters to Hannah, and he welcomes followers on Twitter and Facebook.