October 1, 2017


Trump Turns the Presidency Into a Modern Monarchy : The president hogs the headlines, but the real power resides with trusted advisers, congressional leaders, and well-placed bureaucrats (Josh Kraushaar, 10/01/17, National Journal)'

America under President Trump isn't becoming an autocracy, as some recently feared. Our country's democratic institutions have demonstrated their resilience, the media have rediscovered the importance of checking those in power, and the bureaucracy has demonstrated that simple inertia can overwhelm even the most committed demagogues.

I've struggled how to precisely describe this moment in American history, in which the leader of the free world is an erratic, demagogic celebrity who dominates every nook and cranny of public life like no president before him--yet is so weak institutionally that he can't pass any legislation with his party fully in charge. In February, I anticipated that the Trump administration was "more likely to look like a tragi-comedy, not a horror story." Still, that doesn't fully capture the uniqueness of this moment in American politics.

The Trump administration resembles an American version of a monarchy, in which the head of state consumes outsize attention but has ceded significant power to trusted advisers, his party's leadership in Congress, and well-placed bureaucrats across the government. The triumvirate of Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has remarkable autonomy to steer the nation's foreign policy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is shouldering all the blame for the president's inability to rally support for health care reform. Trump may have humiliated Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but the Department of Justice is actively revamping policy on drug sentencing, cracking down on sanctuary cities, and fighting censorious administrators on college campuses.

Clearly, Trump has actual powers--as opposed to the symbolic roles of a Queen Elizabeth--but it's remarkable to see how much the traditional powers of the presidency have been shrunk. Mattis, his Defense secretary, didn't carry out Trump's tweeted order to ban transgender people from the military. Many foreign governments have learned to ignore the presidential tweets and listen to his advisers to get a better sense of administration policy. Even the despotic North Korean government reportedly was reaching out to conservative think tanks to understand whether to believe Trump's threatening bluster.

Posted by at October 1, 2017 8:41 AM