Emperor Donald the Weak
Could Donald Trump bring an end to the “imperial presidency”?
After the past few days, the idea may seem preposterous — or just the wishful thinking of someone who is very worried. But let’s play this out.
Trump is congenitally imperial. From his penchant for executive decrees to his taste for palm-lined palaces, gilded furniture, and familial courtiers, Trump is more like a Saudi royal than an American president. And like an emperor, he equates self with state — since he is “great” and “tough” and a “winner,” so shall be America. But reflecting on Trump’s first month in office, one can see the outlines of a presidency that, despite all its attempts to project presidential power and authority, will unwittingly end up diminishing it.
The idea of the imperial presidency, as described by historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. more than four decades ago, is rooted in the management of foreign policy, in which a president exploits a persistent sense of threat and stokes fears to accumulate greater power at the expense of accountability. As Schlesinger described it, the core elements of presidential supremacy — unity, secrecy, superior expertise, superior information, and the power of decision — give the White House a tremendous span of control that Schlesinger argues is dangerously undemocratic.