Trump and the Power of the Presidency

The case for limited government is more compelling than ever.


The day before this issue went to press, Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election.

Many people—and not just Democratic partisans—experienced a sinking feeling in their stomachs as Hillary Clinton's widely anticipated victory turned to ash. Faced, suddenly, with the prospect of a political neophyte snagging the awesome power of America's executive office, they became anxious about what he might do with it.

Welcome to the party, guys. Such intestinal-level disquietude is the lot of libertarians the morning after every election.

In their shock, some on the left will act like the United States is merely experiencing a bug—as if the system that normally works so well unexpectedly glitched on November 8.

That is incorrect. The problem isn't that the wrong person won or that our mechanisms for picking winners are rigged or corrupt. The problem is the power itself.

Every time Obama made a recess appointment, or issued an executive order on gender-neutral bathrooms, or limited the comment period on a new regulation, or denied a Freedom of Information Act request, or disregarded state marijuana laws and sent in federal law enforcement, or allowed the IRS to investigate his ideological opponents, he made it easier for President Trump to do the same. He knew what he was doing, and he did it anyway. Likewise, George W. Bush knew what he was doing when he used the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force to launch a protracted, decade-long multinational war, began indefinitely housing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, issued signing statements that waved away restrictions on torture, and much more.

Those who eagerly handed power to Obama, or who cheered when he grabbed it himself, did so because they genuinely believed he would use that power for good, to help those who needed it—women, minorities, the disabled, the poor.

Trump's supporters believe the same thing: that he will slide behind the Resolute desk, pick up the phone, and do his darnedest for the Americans who have lost their jobs to immigrants, their free speech to political correctness, their sense of safety to Islamic terrorists.

Democrats have spent the last eight years paving the road to this particular hell with good intentions. But good intentions aren't what separates Obama from Trump.

The prospect of an eventual handoff should itself be the biggest check on the growth of government: Power grabs, in theory, ought to be less frequent in a world where you can be virtually certain that the bad guys (however you define bad guys) will get their hands on the levers of power, the nuclear codes, and the veto pen in short order. It's bad practice to load a gun you're likely to lose in a wrestling match.

Unlike some of his Republican predecessors, Trump has chosen to dispense with the traditional conservative rhetoric about humility and restraint. His agenda, insofar as it is currently known, involves fully deploying all of the tools at his disposal. But the weird myopia of being in charge seems to afflict people from all parties, and has for a long time.

You won't find much about the president-elect in the pages that follow. Drowning in polling that almost universally missed the mark, this magazine's editors figured on a Clinton victory and therefore less sturm und drang. No matter; Reason's message won't change. But as we hurtle toward a period of Republican control of the White House and the Capitol, advocates for limited government may find ourselves unexpectedly popular with down-and-out Democrats. At least until they win again.

NEXT: Infographic: Biofuels Are Dirtier Than You Think

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  1. Julian Assange on the U.S. election.
    “Hillary Clinton’s election would have been a consolidation of power in the existing ruling class of the United States. Donald Trump is not a DC insider, he is part of the wealthy ruling elite of the United States, and he is gathering around him a spectrum of other rich people and several idiosyncratic personalities. They do not by themselves form an existing structure, so it is a weak structure which is displacing and destabilising the pre-existing central power network within DC. It is a new patronage structure which will evolve rapidly, but at the moment its looseness means there are opportunities for change in the United States: change for the worse and change for the better”.

    I think this sums up the difference between Trump and HRC as president. The brief moment of opportunity while the old power structure is replaced by the new, undoubtedly equally corrupt one.

    1. Wait til the dumbass media — and his supporters — figure out that his tax “plan” includes a 60% tax cut for himself. Almost his entire income would pay a top rate of 15% — well bellow the middle- and working-class suckers. But he’s not a walking Ponzi fraud???

      He’s BRAGGED of being a corrupt crony capitalist. “I give politicians money, they do what I want.” Great.

      He says he could shoot someone to death in Time Square and not lose a single supporter. Shows what he thinks of them, eh?

      1. You know, it would be easier for the rest of us to pretend your different handles were actually different people if you didn’t just copy and paste the word-for-word same exact shit.

        1. Pat (PM),
          Like folks here say the same “shit” about the Constitution, Bill of Rights, WSPQ, and other things most of us have seen?. Should I record and name the source of everything I’ve seen and learned for the past 30 years or so? On what authority?

          And why “shit.” Are you gonna deny Trump’s 60% tax cut for himself? Or are you just trying ti squelch the truth? Just a few minutes ago, up the page, I asked you to explain the strange comment about progressive tax rates. I don’t recall your handle, but you seem to have a thing for vague and ill-defined innuendo.

          1. Are you against tax cuts? Or do you favor massive government confiscation? Or just low taxes only for those YOU approve of?

  2. Ha. Good to see that some are getting to a root problem.

    In America you had a system with better prospects for individuals. Seems that the drive to misrule, embedded in so many humans, is gaining an upper hand.

    At least there’s a glimpse of a better way, even as it recedes in the rear view mirror. Many parts of the world lack even that glimpse.

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