Monday, November 16, 2020

Cut-Rate Caesarism

      The framers of the U. S. Constitution had a problem: the country needed an Executive, someone who would sign checks, oversee putting legislation into action, and so on.  The predecessor governments -- we lump them together, but there were three, growing in scope -- had combined legislative and executive authority.  It was a well-established model.  It wasn't what they were after.

      So we got Separation of Powers.  It wasn't a new idea.  It can be traced back through the English Civil War to John Calvin and on to Aristotle but most of them included a king, or at least a lifetime Executive office-holder with broad powers.  The Framers were concerned about Caesarism and the appeal of Kings.  They wanted something a bit more whittled-down.  They didn't want it to be a lifetime job.

      So the United States got a President, serving for four years at a time and with limited powers.  Congress is supposed to do the heavy lifting of government while the president -- to George Washington's frustration, expressed when he issued the first Executive Orders -- is stuck with trying to make things work from day to day.

      Presidents aren't kings.  They're not supposed to be.  They've got an emergency brake -- the veto power -- and they can issue pardons for Federal crimes, but that's about all that's left of the sweeping powers of kings.

      When partisans of one side or another tell me their guy is "the last chance for freedom" or "the only way to restore our democracy," it gets my hackles up.  Especially now.

      If you think this country's continued existence in recognizable form depends on which septuagenarian infests the White House starting in 2021, give up now: if that's true, the country is done.  Assume Presidents get the very best medical care and advice (and follow it), and you're still looking at a couple of guys whose working life has got a decade or less to go.  They're not saving anything, not for very long.  That kind of dewy-eyed, panty-throwing faith in any political leader isn't American, no matter how many flags you wave.  It's a clearance-sale special version of Caesarism.  It's not a way forward; it's a huge step back.

      America's future depends not on the suit-wearer who gets "Hail To The Chief" played for them or even on which side gets a majority in Congress* but on an engaged and informed electorate, voters willing to throw the bums out when their term ends and select new bums to warm the seats of power.  Whoever wins the Presidency gets the job for four years, maybe eight, and then they're out.  This is as it should be: the President, any President, is Just Some Guy.  Like the bus, there will be another one along in due course.
* Though I admit I'm happier when it is neither. 


Earl said...


Bruce said...

That seems to make a good argument for a Royal Family to hold executive power. A Family will look at keeping stability down thru generations instead of just the next election.

Roberta X said...

Bruce, that's perhaps the most off-target comment I have ever seen -- the whole idea of the Presidency and periodic elections is to *not* have any kind of royal family. Any politician pushing that kind of idea ought to be stabbed to death by his nominal peers. --Not that that prevented it last time.

RandyGC said...

Part of the problem is too many people want a Man On A Horse to "save" them. That, and the inherent laziness and cowardice of congress-critters going back at least a century have given the Presidency it's current Caesar like aura.

Hence my push to refer to the occupant of the Oval Office as a Temporary Federal Employee. Another tradition that supposedly goes back to Rome ('thou art mortal")

JohnMXL said...

IM(NS)HO, it's not the visible politicians who are to's the bureaucracy they've created, aided and abetted by Willis Carrier.

If Carrier hadn't made significant contributions to air conditioning, Washington DC might have remained unbearable a few months out of the year, and the pols and their staffs would have gone home to be among the voters as the Founders seem to have intended, and DC wouldn't have become Ground Zero for paper-pushers.

Anonymous said...

Excellent summation, Roberta. May I quote you?

Roberta X said...

Indeed you may, with attribution.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.