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Reduce the Power of the Presidency

There was an election last night. Interesting stuff! Alas, Ephs are concerned about the results. But is there a political topic that all good Ephs can agree on? I nominate this February essay by Oren Cass ’05.

Our system of government does little to prevent a strongman or a crank from winning the presidency. As long as Electoral College members adhere faithfully to the election results in their states, voters may choose whomever they want, on whatever basis. Recognizing this, the Constitution’s framers tightly circumscribed the president’s role, checking it horizontally with coequal branches that resist sudden change and vertically with the many powers reserved to the states.

The dangerous and novel phenomenon of 2016 is not irresponsible politicians or an inflamed electorate, but rather the unprecedented concentration of power awaiting the election’s ultimate winner. Ironically, many of the now-panicking elites are the very ones who made the presidency so powerful. If they can learn the right lesson from the recent chaos, the specter — even fleeting — of a President Trump or a President Sanders could provide the needed spur to restore balance to our constitutional system. Both parties have done their best to expand the power of the presidency in recent decades — whenever the presidency was theirs. Presidents Reagan and then Clinton established unprecedented White House control over the sprawl of federal agencies. The second President Bush asserted nearly exclusive authority to manage national security and foreign affairs. President Obama, after campaigning against the Bush administration’s excesses, doubled down on most and then applied the same attitude to matters of domestic policy.

Obama described in 2014 his “pen and phone” strategy for governing alone in his second term. At the 2015 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the president informed the audience that he had “something that rhymes with ‘bucket list.’ Take executive action on immigration. Bucket. New climate regulations. Bucket, it’s the right thing to do.”

Read the whole thing.

Cass argues that we ought to dramatically decrease the power of the president. I am a Trump voter, and I agree. Will my fellow Ephs who voted for Clinton join us in this effort? If so, where should Obama start?

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#1 Comment By Dick Swart ’56 On November 9, 2016 @ 1:39 am

Where should Obama start? … a good question, Dave. Where should we start

I am in the Paul Krugman state-of-mind:

Paul Krugman: Our Unknown Country (NYT)

By PAUL KRUGMAN

We still don’t know who will win the electoral college, although as I write this it looks — incredibly, horribly — as if the odds now favor Donald J. Trump. What we do know is that people like me, and probably like most readers of The New York Times, truly didn’t understand the country we live in. We thought that our fellow citizens would not, in the end, vote for a candidate so manifestly unqualified for high office, so temperamentally unsound, so scary yet ludicrous.

We thought that the nation, while far from having transcended racial prejudice and misogyny, had become vastly more open and tolerant over time.

We thought that the great majority of Americans valued democratic norms and the rule of law.

It turns out that we were wrong. There turn out to be a huge number of people — white people, living mainly in rural areas — who don’t share at all our idea of what America is about. For them, it is about blood and soil, about traditional patriarchy and racial hierarchy. And there were many other people who might not share those anti-democratic values, but who nonetheless were willing to vote for anyone bearing the Republican label.

I don’t know how we go forward from here. Is America a failed state and society? It looks truly possible. I guess we have to pick ourselves up and try to find a way forward, but this has been a night of terrible revelations, and I don’t think it’s self-indulgent to feel quite a lot of despair.

#2 Comment By 89’er On November 9, 2016 @ 11:56 am

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

Watch carefully for attacks and subversion of the rule of law and our republican institutions.

Fight like hell against those who do not cherish and respect them.

#3 Comment By John C. Drew, Ph.D. On November 9, 2016 @ 7:37 pm

Please. It has been liberals who have ignored the rule of law, lied about the implications of their policies, and treated the white working class like dirt for all these many years. All that is happening now is that white people have woken up to the fact that political and economic elites have been selling them out and disadvantaging them in life for years.

The safety and comfort of whites has been steadily under attack through affirmative action, immigration programs designed to reduce the percentage of the white population, and immigration policies designed to replace whites with minority groups expected to be more loyal to the Democrat party.

It has take a long time, but white people appear to have woken up to the fact that the whole system has been rigged to undermine and dis-empower them. This was unfair, abuse and illegal. I’m glad that Trump and the strong GOP majority now have an opportunity to set things right.

#4 Comment By Dick Swart ’56 On November 9, 2016 @ 8:30 pm

Great observation, John!

“It has take a long time, but white people appear to have woken up to the fact that the whole system has been rigged to undermine and dis-empower them. This was unfair, abuse and illegal. I’m glad that Trump and the strong GOP majority now have an opportunity to set things right.”

And I have an idea how to make this idea even more popular. All we need are some half-way decent models …

https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/files/2016/07/7-1.png

#5 Comment By John C. Drew, Ph.D. On November 9, 2016 @ 10:43 pm

Unfortunately, the real totalitarians in our country are leftists who smear (and sometimes censor) innocent white folks with disgusting comparisons to the Nazis.

My working class father fought the Nazi’s in WWII as a navel officer.

Suggesting that anyone interested in white identity politics is a Nazi is basically saying they should be killed. Whites are 70% of the electorate. I think it is high time to stop smearing them with this sort of dehumanizing hateful attack.

#6 Comment By Williams Alum On November 10, 2016 @ 8:32 am

JCD –

What do you think of the KKK endorsing Trump?

WA

#7 Comment By 89’er On November 10, 2016 @ 10:38 am

Your father was a navel officer?

How does one fight the Nazis with one’s navel?

Was he in charge of many navels or only his own?

#8 Comment By 89’er On November 10, 2016 @ 10:53 am

Indeed, Dick.

I liked John’s posting better in the orginal German.

Shall we discuss “elbow room” next?

#9 Comment By Williams Alum On November 10, 2016 @ 1:51 pm

I like the times when JCD and/or DDF come to this blog, respond to other threads, and don’t respond to questions explicitly addressed to them. Happens so often, makes me so happy.

WA

Are we human, or are we dancers?

#10 Comment By PTC On November 10, 2016 @ 2:02 pm

I’d like to see an end to the military adventurism of the Bush/ Obama years. Not sure if congress will start doing its job in that regard now- doubt it.

Trump has a policy position of anti globalization in favor of domestic protectionism. That could reduce our involvement overseas and bring back an era when sovereignty mattered in terms of waging war…

Of course, we are talking Trump, so who the heck knows. He has no record on any of this stuff.

#11 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On November 12, 2016 @ 3:54 pm

I like the times when JCD and/or DDF come to this blog, respond to other threads, and don’t respond to questions explicitly addressed to them.

Sorry! I will try to do better on this metric.

#12 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On November 12, 2016 @ 3:57 pm

WA,

One option that you (as an author) have is to start a new thread on precisely the topic you want to talk about. That is, if you think person X has made a good point about X (and/or that I or JCD or anyone else has failed to address the topic), just start a new thread. You have the power to put any topic you like on the top of the page! Please use it.

I confess to not always reading every comment or finding the time to reply in as much detail as I should. But, to be fair, it is not always clear how much other people are interested in topic X, especially after 10 comments or so. But, if you are interested enough to start a new thread, I can (almost!) guarantee that I will respond.