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.

Photos: Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire CBW/Newscom; Dominic Gwinn/ZUMA Press/Newscom; SMG/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Ron Sachs/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Newscom; Dennis Brack/DanitaDelimont.com "Danita Delimont Photography"/Newscom; Polaris/Newscom; Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Newscom; The U.S. National Archives, Mark Nozell, Obama White House, ID 166630072© Kevynbj Dreamstime.com; Gage Skidmore

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  1. 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.”

    Honestly, since it didn’t happen in Trump’s first two years then it likely never will.

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    2. It looks like every time he tried to bring troops home, he was ignored, defied, or sabotaged. The president may nominally be the big boss, but it’s just one person. The organization under him doesn’t really have to do what he tells them to do if they don’t want to.

      1. If the election is stolen from Trump, then the only path to freedom is a revolution. The democrats are largely a Marxist organization that seeks complete domination of everyone.

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        2. See how nationalsocialists think exactly like generic socialists? Shitstain has been reeking in these comments for way past its welcome, yet still urges the initiation of force on pretext of imagined future outcomes. Life inside a tiny flat 2D Venn circle must really not be worth living.

        3. The problem with revolutions is that you never know what will replace the current status quo. It could easily be worse.

    3. Honestly, since it didn’t happen in Trump’s first two years then it likely never will.

      Exactly. Out of all the elected republicans, the most likely to do it, was one that wasn't even a politician --> Donald Trump.

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

      Are you kidding? Biden was just elected. The democrats are trying to usher in socialism sized big government. Every minor issue that creeps up, the democrats want the president and government to take care of it for them. The democrats want the president and government to nanny them and keep them safe from guns, sickness, old age, and tragic accidents. The democrats want the president and government to liberate them from the high student loan debt associated from getting that double major in LGBT synchronized swimming and activist studies. And to do that, they need other people's money. And they need government to make it happen for them. Reigning in the powers? That's not going to happen.

      1. Guns don’t kill people; idiots with guns kill people. Democrats want the government to keep us safe(er) from idiots. You’d think the “law and order” party would get that….

        1. So the “Democrats want the government to keep us safe(er) (sic) from idiots” at the same time that they yell “Defund the police”? Well, that might keep us safe from some police, but not from your regular everyday criminals. Crime rates are going up in cities where the Progs handcuff the police.

          If Dems want to keep us “safe”, it’s by not allowing us to do things that we want to do, not by cracking down on criminals.

      2. States elect the president. The Great Unwashed elects Congress, dog-catchers, some judges, aldermen and governors. States are the voters in an election not yet held, much less counted. In 1972 a lady for VP got an electoral vote and the Supreme Court copied Roe v Wade out of the LP platform into its decision. That does not happen because of popular votes, just as those Justices are nominated and confirmed, not elected. And it’s reining in.

  2. Not limited to Presidents. Government in general — legislators, judges — always ratchet up their power, or at least government power.

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    3. Racheters are responding to votes cast for kleptocracy looters, plus spoiler votes cast for econazis and the communist party. Libertarian spoiler votes only began changing that in 1972, when backstabbing looter retaliation began in earnest. Nearly all arrogation of power since Lysander Spooner’s time has responded to communist, crazed mystical and monarchic pressures, mostly from abroad.

  3. 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.

    Yes from the outside but no to expecting Congresscitters to lift a finger. Give money to the IJ or Pacific Legal; best bang for your buck rolling back government overreach.

  4. These powers were forced on the executive by congress refusing to do it’s duty.
    The first continuing resolution passed instead of the proper budgeting, and all the laws giving a bare outline for the bureaucrats to fill in were the beginning of the end of the republic.
    And if you expect that ratchet to magically turn backwards, you have been reading here too long.

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    2. The Atlantic had an interview recently with a historian who has used a mathematical formula incorporating nearly every complex society in human history that has been documented. This guy’s thesis is that every civilization displays certain characteristics when it enters into a decline, and his algorithm basically said that we’re fucked, it’s just a question of how fast it’s going to be.

      This understandably shook up his interviewer, who realized he’ll likely end up as coyote food if he’s around for such a collapse, being the soft urban yuppie that he is.

      1. “The son of the democratic man is the tyrant” or something like that.

  5. And it didn’t even start to begin with Trump. Obvious headline is obvious. I tried searching for 90s Christopher Hitchens discussing the Imperial Presidency in regards to Clinton, but I can’t dig it up right now.

  6. “It’s time that we start thinking about reigning in the powers that we’ve let slip to this institution,”

    How fucking old is this piece? I’m pretty sure that quote is from when Clinton took over from Bush and when Bush took over from Clinton and when Obama took over from Bush and from when Trump took over from Obama – it’s been time to think about reigning in the Imperial Presidency my whole goddamn life.

    1. I don’t remember when it was but I read the mentioned book years ago. It is somewhere in my spare bedroom covered in dust.

  7. We can fix it with one sentence, “Government shall not initiate force.” Make that the 28th amendment and Bob’s your uncle.

    1. Well if we’re asking for things, can we get a Congressional term limit amendment and a balanced budget amendment as well?

      1. Why? If they can’t be tyrants it doesn’t really matter who is in Congress. If they can’t collect coercive taxes they’ll only have the money they can collect non coercively.

      2. Balanced budgets = communism, haven’t you heard?

    2. So how do we f
      Defend the country? Or deal with violent criminals?

    3. Good idea. Meanwhile there’s the Atlas Shrugged Amendment overshadowed and forgotten while the Gee Oh Pee and Prohibition Party shrilly bleated for girl-bullying Amendments to coerce physicians at gunpoint. Ayn’s Amendment runs: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade…”

  8. 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.”

    Says the magazine that supported a party that wants to pack the senate and courts to maintain permanent big government power. Fuck all the way off.

    BTW

    Potential Biden Cabinet Pick a Frequent Guest on Chinese Propaganda Outlets
    Progressive darling Jeffrey Sachs previously consulted for Chinese regime
    https://freebeacon.com/2020-election/potential-biden-cabinet-pick-a-frequent-guest-on-chinese-propaganda-outlets/

    Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and potential progressive pick for a cabinet position under a Joe Biden administration, appeared on Chinese propaganda outlets throughout the 2020 campaign to blast U.S. foreign policy as an “unholy crusade against China.”

    Sachs, a Columbia University economist, contributed to scathing articles in the Global Times, China Daily, and other regime mouthpieces and has done media hits on state-owned outlets such as the China Global Television Network (CGTN). Sachs has maintained a long relationship with the Chinese government and business elite, which can be traced back to at least the early 2000s.

    1. We need a MAGA wet mop on aisle six, devotional items.

  9. This should start with a Congress willing to take votes. It is far too easy to hand over power then sit back an criticize. Taking votes means going on the record and too many in Congress don’t want to do that. Far easier to leave it to the Executive or Courts. Our founders gave the power to make laws, to make budgets, and to make war to the Congress. Congress has instead handed that power off to avoid being held accountable.

    1. I agree. And the executive agencies need to be reformed so that their regulations and legislative packages are voted on by Congress as well. Make America Accountable Again.

      1. Screw term limits on Congress.

        Term limits on bureaucrats. That would fix a lot of issues. Clean house on the regular. You get six years working for the government period…any agency, does not matter if you move jobs or what have you. You go from Defense to State in your 3rd year, you still only have 3 yrs of possible employment left.

        And after 6 yrs, you’re out. No option, not even as a consultant. And your firm, should you start or join one, cannot bid on government contracts.

        1. Research on white collar crime showed skimmers and such never take vacations, cling like barnacles to their jobs and repel all questioning. Of the Biden cronies who signed the Drug Abuse + Asset forfeiture Law that took effect in Crash year 1987, just about all not buried or removed hang like lampreys to their posts. It’s almost as if they were skimming something of of those billion-dollar cocaine and asset seizures we never see destroyed.

  10. >>”We need congresspeople that act

    who act. and wrong we need congresspeople who do nothing.

    1. What you fail to see is that we have a do nothing Congress and the result is more power in the Executive Branch and the Courts. More spending, more war, more confusions. Congress needs to uphold its part of the Constitution. It is not enough to say do nothing they need to go on record, that mean taking a vote. You don’t want DACA then vote NO. But don’t sit on the sidelines.

      1. we need to never have put DACA to a vote.

        1. First DACA is an example. Do we not need to vote on budgets, on use of force, etc.

          As for DACA, is the reason for avoiding the vote that you don’t like what the outcome maybe?

        2. Hey… That’s democracy for you. People get to vote.

  11. Trump couldn’t have been an imperial president as clearly he wasn’t even actually in charge.

    https://www.defenseone.com/threats/2020/11/outgoing-syria-envoy-admits-hiding-us-troop-numbers-praises-trumps-mideast-record/170012/

    Four years after signing the now-infamous “Never Trump” letter condemning then-presidential candidate Donald Trump as a danger to America, retiring diplomat Jim Jeffrey is recommending that the incoming Biden administration stick with Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

    But even as he praises the president’s support of what he describes as a successful “realpolitik” approach to the region, he acknowledges that his team routinely misled senior leaders about troop levels in Syria.

    “We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,” Jeffrey said in an interview. The actual number of troops in northeast Syria is “a lot more than” the roughly two hundred troops Trump initially agreed to leave there in 2019.

    Trump’s abruptly-announced withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria remains perhaps the single-most controversial foreign policy move during his first years in office, and for Jeffrey, “the most controversial thing in my fifty years in government.” The order, first handed down in December 2018, led to the resignation of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It catapulted Jeffrey, then Trump’s special envoy for Syria, into the role of special envoy in the counter-ISIS fight when it sparked the protest resignation of his predecessor, Brett McGurk.

    For Jeffrey, the incident was far less cut-and-dry — but it is ultimately a success story that ended with U.S. troops still operating in Syria, denying Russian and Syrian territorial gains and preventing ISIS remnants from reconstituting.

    1. this should scare people far more than the concept of an “imperial presidency”

      1. Now realize that almost every agency is like this.

        1. Maybe the so called libertarians here will look back one day and regret what they did. Maybe we could have at least slowed them up, maybe even cleaned up some of these entrenched, unelected, power hungry bureaucrats.

          But no, oranges was just too bad and Russia! was just too easy, and too cool with the in crowd.

          Go tuck yourself, and your oh so conveniently timed poses of sincerity. You are going to get stated deep and hard.

          And we all know that you secretly like it.

        2. It’s why Mattis was turfed.

      2. We should elect more presidents that the political classes find intolerable. They can’t help themselves but to self-righteously flaunt their power to ignore the civilian elected leadership.

  12. When Biden is inaugurated, all of the people who insisted that the country was under the heel of a fascist dictator will be the ones who insist that unquestioning obedience of The Dear Leader is required. We just keep going around and around in this circle.

    1. Well, yeah. Trump has bad intentions and Biden has good intentions. Bad intentions have bad results, while good intentions have good results. Duh. Everyone knows this.

    2. Once it sinks in who it is that they actually elected, I think people will quickly sour on Biden. They may justify it in their minds, “well, at least it’s not Trump,” but they won’t be happy.

      1. We can’t let Biden be in charge. At this point the options should be Trump, or a massive revolution. We cannot have progressive decorates and freedom simultaneously. These things are mutually exclusive.

        1. You lead the charge…..we’re right behind you.

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  14. I think Gene said that we should “rein in” the powers of the presidency. You know, like the president is a horse.

    1. Giddyup!

  15. It’s time we start reining in the powers of the President, before the next one starts his reign.

  16. I’m bracing for 4 years (or more) of “you can’t complain about Biden’s executive overreach because Trump.”

    Never mind that I never supported Trump, and spent 4 years complaining about his executive overreach (and that of his predecessors).

    1. Trump didn’t overstep his authority, though. He acted within the confines of what is constitutionally expected of his administration more so than any other president before him.

      Just because libertarians don’t like the trade or immigration policies doesn’t mean he overstepped the bounds of his office. Tarriffs are less an imposition on our constitutional rights than the income tax is.

      1. Uh…what?!

        Courts just dinged him for illegally appointing interim heads of departments without Senate review and approval. His DACA policies were just reversed as a result.

        That isn’t “what is constitutionally expected.”

  17. I agree, our kings have been ruling mostly by decree now for about 40 years. Oops, I agree our Presidents have been ruling mostly by decree now for about 40 years.

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  19. Why would anyone like or trust someone who willingly takes a job that pays them with stolen money?

  20. As imperial as the presidency may or may not be it’s hard to say. Because when a president is disfavored by the intelligentsia and political classes, judges magically discover that the president has has very little power over X, Y and Z even in instances when the president is simply rescinding the previous President’s X, Y or Z executive order.

    We have an imperial oligarchy if anything.

    1. Exactly. This is why I’ve been laughing at this “Imperial Presidency” bullshit for years. The presidency isn’t the problem; it’s Congress’s legislation that allows bureaucrats to control entire sectors of the economy, without any input from the president. I could go on all day about decisions regarding puddles being declared wetlands, open land used for grazing made off limits because of the three-toed snail darter, etc.

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  23. The Imperial Presidency didn’t start with Trump either, and he wasn’t a particularly imperial president.

    The most imperial president in recent history was Obama. Let’s hope that Biden is too incompetent to fall into his footsteps, and let’s hope that Senate Republicans have the backbone to stop him.

    1. He misallocated funds that weren’t approved by Congress to build “the wall.” He argued in favored of an imperial presidency saying he could do whatever he wanted.

      Obama, like Trump, had a divided Congress and could only get things done through executive order. Right or wrong, they were trying to keep their promises using the tools available to them.

      1. He misallocated funds that weren’t approved by Congress to build “the wall.”

        That’s debatable. It also pales in comparison to what prior presidents did.

        He argued in favored of an imperial presidency saying he could do whatever he wanted.

        Being a loudmouth doesn’t make you a dictator.

        Obama, like Trump, had a divided Congress and could only get things done through executive order. Right or wrong, they were trying to keep their promises using the tools available to them.

        I voted for Obama. Not only did Obama fail to deliver on his campaign promises, he actively did the opposite of what he promised.

        Obama’s lies, abuse of executive power, and incompetence, combined with Clinton’s corruption, were the reason I left the Democratic party in 2016, so don’t talk to me about “they all do it”.

  24. Given that Trump was reversing some of the imperial abuses of his predecessor, which his apparent successor appears determined to reimpose, certainly not.

  25. Is Cato a source of misspelling too? There may be a gerund form for “draw rein”, but reigning? The biblically trusted Merriam-Webster dictionary is now giving its nihil obstat to the coinage, it also gives a dozen correct synonyms for “reining in.” So is “reigning in” ruling a jurisdiction or algospeak for bridling, restraining, checking, inhibiting… Merriam-Webster’s straddles the issue.

  26. “It’s time that we start thinking about reigning in the powers that we’ve let slip to this institution.”

    We’ve been thinking about it for decades already.

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