Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Trump: Just the Newest Leader of an Old Cult

U.S. President Donald Trump greets the crowd from the presidential review stand during the 58th Presidential Inauguration Parade in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. The parade route stretched approximately 1.5 miles along Pennsylvania Avenue from the U.S. Capitol to the White House. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)
U.S. President Donald Trump greets the crowd from the presidential review stand during the 58th Presidential Inauguration Parade in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. The parade route stretched approximately 1.5 miles along Pennsylvania Avenue from the U.S. Capitol to the White House. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

In his first week as president of the United States, Donald Trump issued a flurry of executive orders on a number of subjects.

Some of those orders, such as his withdrawal of presidential recommendation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty (presidents propose treaties, the Senate ratifies them) and a hiring freeze in the executive branch, seem to fall squarely within his powers as laid out by Article II of the US Constitution.

Others, such as his conditioning of federal funding for “sanctuary cities” on their willingness to start doing the federal government’s work for it, his order to begin building a wall along the US border with Mexico, and his ban on entrance into the United States by nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries, not so much.

Trump’s early actions as president have given rise to substantial protest, not to mention litigation. Will he get away with ruling by decree? The Constitution says no. History says yes. The Trump presidency is far from sui generis . Rather it is the inevitable culmination of America’s long slide into a nearly worshipful attitude toward executive power — what Cato Institute vice-president Gene Healy dubbed, in his 2008 book of that name, The Cult of the Presidency.

The theory of American government is that the president is the chief executive. Words mean things. The president’s job is to implement — to execute — the will of Congress as expressed in legislation. He’s not the homeowner. He’s the housekeeper.

That’s the theory. In practice, presidents have, over time, carved out considerable personal power for themselves. Especially since World War Two and especially in the area of foreign policy (for example, Truman’s decision to go to war in Korea first and ask Congress for approval second), they’ve tended to treat Congress as a rubber stamp. Instead of following Congress’s lead, they expect Congress to follow theirs.

And it’s worked. Americans have become accustomed to regard the president as what George W. Bush called himself: “The Decider.” Or, as Barack Obama put it, “[w]e’re not just going to be waiting for legislation …. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.”

The “strong executive/weak executive” debate goes back to the founding of the United States.  For the last half century and more, the “strong executive” side has been winning out. The result: President Donald Trump and, for all intents and purposes, the finale of our national transformation from republic to banana republic.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION HISTORY

Obama Visits Havana: Cuba Libre For Real?

"fight against which is impossible and wi...
“Fight against the impossible and win” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

US President Barack Obama’s late March visit to Cuba, continuing his initiative to re-establish friendly relations between the two countries, arouses opposition on both sides of the aisle in Washington.

The Republican complaints, of course, are to be expected. If Obama walked across the Florida Strait without wetting the hems of his trousers, Ted Cruz would ask why the president can’t swim.

But some Democrats also oppose breaking the ice with Havana. “It is totally unacceptable for the president of the United States to reward a dictatorial regime,” says US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). “The president is again prioritizing short-term economic interests over long-term American values.”

Let’s be honest here: Cruz, Menendez and their ilk have done as much to prop up Fidel Castro’s regime as Castro’s own secret police agents or neighborhood “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution” ever could, if not more. Half a century and change of sanctions and embargo have strengthened, not weakened, popular support for the island nation’s Communist rulers.

National isolation is the desire of every dictator: If his subjects never see what a freer society looks like or have the opportunity to avail themselves of its goods and services, they have no standard against which to measure his rule and find it wanting.

If a powerful, threatening external enemy actively aids him in achieving that isolation, so much the better: For now even if his subjects DO get a glimpse of higher living standards and relative freedom to travel, speak and worship, he can just blame that external enemy for denying them such things.

This is the dynamic which has kept the mullahs in charge in Tehran since 1979 and the Communist Party in charge in Havana since 1959. It is this dynamic which Obama hopes, by way of burnishing his presidential legacy, to interrupt with his Jeffersonian (“friendship and commerce with all nations”) overtures to Cuba.

The beneficiaries of the US embargo on Cuba have been the Castro regime, the US military industrial complex, the US sugar industry, and a few professional “opposition exiles” living on CIA funds and hoping to one day ride into Havana on American tanks. Its victims are legion and include the entire populations of Cuba the United States.

Just as it was a myth that “only Nixon could go to China,” any president could have gone to Havana. One finally has. And we’re all better off for it.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

Election 2016: The Courtpocalypse and How to Delay It

English: President Barack Obama and Vice Presi...
English: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden with the members of the Supreme Court and retiring justice David Souter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Presidential election campaigns tend to follow a predictable issues timetable, but certain events can upset that timetable in a big way. The death of US Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia is precisely such an event, and its consequences will be felt in November.

By the time Scalia’s body reached the funeral home, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had already handed Democrats a great talking point and turnout motivator with his announcement that he intends to put off Senate confirmation of any replacement for Scalia for a full year, until a new president has been elected and sworn in.

The usual tactical approach when a president of one party nominates a candidate for approval by a Senate of the other party is basically brute obstructionism — dragging out the committee investigations, perhaps pushing back with the discovery or manufacture of scandals, and so on. McConnell could have almost certainly pulled that off. There would have been grumbling, but heck, there’s always grumbling.

Alternatively, a “consensus” appointee acceptable to both sides of the aisle might be allowed to run the gauntlet. In this case, the likely pick would be DC Court of Appeals judge Srikanth Srinivasan, who clerked for “conservative” justice Sandra Day O’Connor, worked in the Solicitor General’s office during the Bush administration, and was confirmed by a 97-0 Senate vote when Obama appointed him to his current post.

Instead, McConnell laid out an entirely new doctrine: When the Senate doesn’t like the sitting president, he says, it will just hold off on confirming Supreme Court appointments until it gets a president it DOES like.

Why is that such a big deal? Because the implications stretch far beyond the replacement of Scalia.

At least three more SCOTUS justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer — are, as was Scalia, in their late 70s or early 80s. Along with Scalia, they cover the whole range from “liberal” to “conservative.” And like Scalia, there’s every reason to believe that they will each retire or die during the next presidential term.

The Supreme Court is soon to be re-made in a big way, almost certainly altering the “liberal/conservative” balance. Scalia’s death puts that re-making front and center in the presidential race.

In a normal election year, presidential primary candidates talk to their parties’ “bases” about appointing hardcore conservative or liberal justices. Then during the general campaign they move toward the center, avoid ideology, and claim their only concern is finding  “qualified” justices. Scalia’s death and McConnell’s declaration of war on the confirmation process have the effect of keeping everyone in their initial corners for the long haul. If you worry about polarization in American politics, welcome to the Courtpocalypse.

But let me suggest a grand bargain to defuse the situation. Congress has changed the size of the Supreme Court before. Why not pass legislation reducing the number of justices to seven, contingent upon Ginsburg agreeing to retire? That would preserve the balance and put the whole question off. For a little while, anyway.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY