Searching for the good in Donald Trump’s irresponsible governance there is the chance that we get the presidency back to its proper constitutional limits.
Powerful, effective and popular presidents, for all the good they might have done, also burst through the barriers intentionally put in place by the nation’s founders. There’s a reason they almost entitled the job simply “Magistrate in Chief.” It was only out of respect for George Washington that they gave it a loftier name, if not the tools to match it.
Perhaps a butt-head in office will give rise to rival institutions, the courts, Congress, and yes, even the media. Already we’ve seen a handful of liberal judges out West trim the sails of his ignorant xenophobia (although that fight is long from over).
The news estate seems to be taking up Trump’s challenge, at least no longer shying away from calling him a liar. That’s a start.
But can a Republican-controlled Congress stand up to him? Against his will they are inching forward with probes into Russia’s possible entanglements with his campaign. It was also noteworthy that, unlike what might have happened with a legitimate leader accusing the intelligence community of breaking the law, GOP leaders (and just about anyone else who matters) mostly dismissed his latest conspiracy theory that the Obama Administration wiretapped him.
Trump is trying to build on past presidential usurpations of power with executive orders. But, as in the travel ban, he’s going about it in such a ham-fisted way that in the end the courts might better define the constitutional limits of this much-abused authority.
The best and brightest results might come if and when Trump commits troops somewhere without a declaration of war. A disrespected president, especially among his own party’s lawmakers, might just give Congress the will to reclaim its voluntarily abandoned war powers.
What Trump doesn’t seem to understand is that the presidency really isn’t like running his own company, a thinly-veiled dictatorship. Past over-reaching has moved it in that direction, but the truth is that the job’s actual constitutional powers are technically quite limited. Meaning that the nation tends to only allow questionable expansions of presidential powers based upon an intangible authority rooted in widespread popularity and earned trust.
Trump has neither. Which could be a good thing, if you believe in putting the presidency back into its constitutional box.
[Cross-posted via The Huffington Post]