A Monster in the White House

Column by Harry Goslin.

Exclusive to STR

A recent article by Eric Posner, “And If Elected: What President Trump Could or Couldn’t Do,” begs the question of why any American should be concerned with what a President Trump can or can’t do. The expansive executive actions of Presidents Bush and Obama over the last 16 years make a response to this inquiry fairly obvious: whatever he believed appropriate under his interpretation of Article II of the Constitution. He would be emulating his predecessors in accordance with authority granted by Congress.

Pundits bemoan “gridlock” and “divided government” as bad, unless the president is a Republican or “conservative.” But that’s not the concern with Trump. The concern is apparently the very survival of republican government itself. Apoplexy and irrational terror inundate the land. He must be stopped or the world will surely come to an end (spittle, dribble, spittle, dribble – accompanied by ruptured capillary in eye)!

Posner’s article opens with an unflattering campaign photo of Donald Trump waving a finger at his audience, red-faced and perspiring heavily. Shortly into the article, Posner says the following: “Mr. Trump’s critics wonder whether a man with such a violent temper can be trusted with the presidency.” Right, we prefer calm, reserved candidates who, when elected, are eager to commence the slaughter of innocents across the globe and then regret the “collateral damage” necessary to secure America.

Not to worry about the possibility of the next president coming unhinged, because Posner includes this gem by Senator John McCain: “I still believe we have the institutions of government that would restrain someone who seeks to exceed their Constitutional obligations. We have a Congress. We have the Supreme Court.” It seems Senator McCain is beginning to exhibit further, more acute, signs of senility and a loss of touch with reality. Surely he cannot be speaking of the American system of government as it exists today.

McCain seems to be assuaging any fears of the American voter about a Trump presidency. Should a President Trump overstep his executive authority, Republicans in Congress will do their duty to “protect and preserve” the Constitution.

Don’t forget, that’s what Congressional Republicans did when George W. Bush overstepped his constitutional authority, right? Oh wait, they were complicit because Bush needed power to act unilaterally in order to protect the country against lots of bad guys who never materialized. Bush didn’t have the time to confide in Congress or respect the cumbersome checks and balances that McCain now speaks of so glowingly. Lives were at stake. Maybe even a mushroom cloud rising over an American city, too.

The Democrats did the same thing when they had the majority in Congress and their guy was in the White House. Maybe the only significant difference was the ongoing increase in powers utilized by the president. That is the nature of the office. And there was Congress, every step of the way, delegating its authority to the president even though the Constitution gives it no power to do this.

Just like Republicans have done with Obama, especially the last two years when, after the 2014 midterm elections should have made him a “lame duck,” the president said he wouldn’t let the Republicans in Congress stymie his efforts to “do good” for America, daring them to try and stop him using executive action to circumvent Congress.

The Democrats who controlled Congress the last two years of George Bush’s second term were no better. They complained about presidential usurpations in the wake of 9/11 and the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and continued to criticize the Bush administration’s propensity for secrecy and unilateral action but did nothing to stop it. Instead, they extended the president’s authority for fear of appearing soft on terrorism and exposing the country to further terrorist attacks. Then they became apologists for Obama’s continuation of executive power expansion once they regained control of Congress early in his first term.

Now, all of a sudden, it matters that a potential president might abuse constitutional powers. Posner, offering a quick civics lesson, reminds us that, “Under the principle of separation of powers, the president shares power with Congress and the judiciary.” Yes, but that doesn’t matter any longer. The president was long ago cut loose from any legislative or judicial restraint, a circumstance exacerbated beyond repudiation since 9/11. No Congress will impeach a president in this climate. Any attempts by Congress to restrain a president will only be met with more defiance and blatant executive action.

Whoever enters the White House in January will resume the tradition of his/her predecessors and unilaterally extend the reach of the executive into ever-smaller increments of control over Americans’ lives. Congress will be powerless to stop this process and will be manipulated, pressured and even wooed into acceding to the further diminution of its powers.

Most of the American people, oblivious and apathetic to what this has meant so far, will yawn and go back to watching TV, playing with their phones or eating too much. Those who still believe in the Cult of the Presidency will applaud like trained seals, not knowing, or caring, of their role in further condemning us to costly wars, bigger government and less freedom.

Congress spent most of the 20th Century creating this presidential monster, a person they thought they could at the same time control and harvest continuous political benefit for themselves and their cronies, all at the expense of an increasingly disconnected and dumbed-down electorate. They unleashed the beast in the wake of the irrational fear that followed 9/11. Predictably, the beast has demonstrated a voracious appetite for more power and less restraint.

If Donald Trump wins the election and becomes the “monster” so many Americans fear, it would not have been possible without the tireless effort of Congress. Trump will only be as bad or worse than his predecessors because of Congress abdicating its responsibilities to “check” the power of the president (like John McCain said), rather than extend broad, unspecified and open-for-interpretation authority to the president. 

Your rating: None
Harry Goslin's picture
Columns on STR: 40

Harry Goslin lives in eastern Arizona. 


Jim Davies's picture

Excellent article, Harry, well and tightly written.
Now, what are you going to do about the "further condemn[ation of] us to costly wars, bigger government and less freedom"?
I'm doing this. And this. And this. Might you join me?

livemike's picture

Doctor someone said Donald Trump was too angry a man to let in the White House and then quoted John McCain. Yes without irony or acknowledgement of the possibility of irony. Yes I facepalmed so hard I caused concussion again. No I can't come down to your office it's happened so often I've no idea where your office is. I have to stop reading about politicians.