Executive Power

The Imperial Presidency Will Not End With Trump

"It's time that we start thinking about reining in the powers that we've let slip to this institution," says the Cato Institute's Gene Healy.


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"Donald Trump didn't invent the Imperial presidency—he inherited it," says Gene Healy, a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power. "The powers that are forged in one presidency are going to be powers that are handed on to future presidents. Some of those people are going to be people that you really do not like and do not trust."

"This is a person that can launch a catastrophic war, unleash fire and fury, even start a trade war from his couch," Healy tells Reason. "It's time that we start thinking about reining in the powers that we've let slip to this institution."

Healy doesn't expect a Biden administration to change the balance of power in Washington. "Nobody who's willing to do what it takes to gain the presidency is going to turn around and say, once they've won the prize, 'You know what, now that I'm here, I'd like a lot less power.'…Even presidents who don't go into the presidency with any kind of ideological commitment to expanding executive power tend to do that. And Congress tends not to resist much unless it's in the hands of a different party."

Reform has to be "imposed from the outside," Healy says. "We need congresspeople that act as though they care about the institution itself and the powers it holds. And we've seen too little of that in recent decades."

Produced and edited by Meredith Bragg. Graphics by Lex Villena and Bragg.

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