Down with the Presidency
The modern institution of the presidency is the primary political evil Americans face, and the cause of nearly all our woes. It squanders the national wealth and starts unjust wars against foreign peoples that have never done us any harm. It wrecks our families, tramples on our rights, invades our communities, and spies on our bank accounts. It skews the culture toward decadence and trash. It tells lie after lie. Teachers used to tell school kids that anyone can be president. This is like saying anyone can go to Hell. It’s not an inspiration; it’s a threat.
The presidency—by which I mean the executive State—is the sum total of American tyranny. The other branches of government, including the presidentially appointed Supreme Court, are mere adjuncts. The presidency insists on complete devotion and humble submission to its dictates, even while it steals the products of our labor and drives us into economic ruin. It centralizes all power unto itself, and crowds out all competing centers of power in society, including the church, the family, business, charity, and the community. I’ll go further. The US presidency is the world’s leading evil. It is the chief mischief-maker in every part of the globe, the leading wrecker of nations, the usurer behind Third World debt, the bailer-out of corrupt governments, the hand in many dictatorial gloves, the sponsor and sustainer of the New World Order, of wars, interstate and civil, of famine and disease. To see the evils caused by the presidency, look no further than Iraq or Serbia, where the lives of innocents were snuffed out in pointless wars, where bombing was designed to destroy civilian infrastructure and cause disease, and where women, children, and the aged have been denied essential food and medicine because of a cruel embargo. Look at the human toll taken by the presidency, from Dresden and Hiroshima to Waco and Ruby Ridge, and you see a prime practitioner of murder by government.
Today, the president is called the leader of the world’s only superpower, the “world’s indispensable nation,” which is reason enough to have him deposed. A world with any superpower at all is a world where no freedoms are safe. But by invoking this title, the presidency attempts to keep our attention focused on foreign affairs. It is a diversionary tactic designed to keep us from noticing the oppressive rule it imposes right here in the United States.
As the presidency assumes ever more power unto itself, it becomes less and less accountable and more and more tyrannical. These days, when we say the federal government, what we really mean is the presidency. When we say national priorities, we really mean what the presidency wants. When we say national culture, we mean what the presidency funds and imposes.
The presidency is presumed to be the embodiment of Rousseau’s general will, with far more power than any monarch or head of state in pre-modern societies. The US presidency is the apex of the world’s biggest and most powerful government and of the most expansive empire in world history. As such, the presidency represents the opposite of freedom. It is what stands between us and our goal of restoring our ancient rights.
And let me be clear: I’m not talking about any particular inhabitant of the White House. I’m talking about the institution itself, and the millions of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who are its acolytes. Look through the US government manual, which breaks down the federal establishment into its three branches. What you actually see is the presidential trunk, its Supreme Court stick, and its congressional twig. Practically everything we think of as federal—save the Library of Congress—operates under the aegis of the executive.
This is why the governing elites—and especially the foreign policy elites—are so intent on maintaining public respect for the office, and why they seek to give it the aura of holiness. For example, after Watergate, they briefly panicked and worried that they had gone too far. They might have discredited the democratic autocracy. And to some extent they did. But the elites were not stupid; they were careful to insist that the Watergate controversy was not about the presidency as such, but only about Nixon the man. That’s why it became necessary to separate the two. How? By keeping the focus on Nixon, making a devil out of him, and reveling in the details of his personal life, his difficulties with his mother, his supposed pathologies, etc.
Of course, this didn’t entirely work. Americans took from Watergate the lesson that presidents will lie to you. This should be the first lesson of any civics course, of course, and the first rule of thumb in understanding the affairs of government. But notice that after Nixon died, he too was elevated to godlike status. None other than Bill Clinton served as high priest of the cult of president-worship on that occasion. He did everything but sacrifice a white bull at the temple of the White House.
The presidency recovered most of its sacramental character during the Reagan years. How wonderful, for the sake of our liberties, that Clinton has revived the great American tradition of scorning tyrants. In some ways, he is the best president a freedom lover can hope for, more well known for his private parts than his public policies. Of course, someday, Clinton too will ascend to the clouds, and enter the pantheon of the great leaders of the free world.
The libraries are filled with shelf after shelf of treatises on the American presidency. Save yourself some time, and don’t bother with them. Virtually all tell the same hagiographic story. Whether written by liberals or conservatives, they serve up the identical Whiggish pap: the history of the presidency is the story of a great and glorious institution. It was opposed early on, and viciously so, by the anti-federalists, and later, even more viciously, by Southern Confederates. But it has been heroically championed by every respectable person since the beginning of the republic.
The office of the presidency, the conventional wisdom continues, has changed not at all in substance, but has grown in stature, responsibility, and importance, to fulfill its unique mission on earth. As the duties of the office have grown, so has the greatness of the men who inhabit it. Each stands on the shoulders of his forerunners, and, inspired by their vision and decisiveness, goes on to make his own contribution to the ever-expanding magisterium of presidential laws, executive orders, and national security findings.
When there is a low ebb in the accumulation of power, it is seen as the fault of the individual and not the office. Thus the so-called postage-stamp presidents between Lincoln and Wilson are to be faulted for not following the glorious example set by Abe. They had a vast reservoir of power, but were mysteriously reluctant to use it. Fortunately that situation was resolved, by Wilson especially, and we moved onward and upward into the light of the present day. And every one of these books ends with the same conclusion: the US presidency has served us well.
The hagiographers do admit one failing of the American presidency. It is almost too big an office for one man, and too much a burden to bear. The American people have come to expect too much from the president. We are unrealistic to think that one man can do it all. But that’s all the more reason to respect and worship the man who agrees to take it on, and why all enlightened people must cut him some slack.
The analogy that comes to mind is the official history of the popes. In its infancy, the papacy was less formal, but its power and position were never in question. As the years went on and doctrine developed, so too did the burdens of office. Each pope inherited the wisdom of his forbears, and led the church into fulfilling its mission more effectively.
But let’s be clear about this. The church has never claimed that the papacy was the product of human effort; its spiritual character is a consequence of a divine, not human, act. And even the official history admits the struggles with anti-popes and Borgia popes. Catholics believe the institution was founded by Christ, and is guided by the Holy Spirit, but the pope can only invoke that guidance in the most narrow and rare circumstances. Otherwise, he is all too fallible. And that is why, although allegedly an absolute monarch, he is actually bound by the rule of law.
The presidency is seemingly bound by law, but in practice it can do just about anything it pleases. It can order up troops anywhere in the world, just as Clinton bragged in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention. It can plow up a religious community in Texas and bury its members because they got on somebody’s nerves at the Justice Department. It can tap our phones, read our mail, watch our bank accounts, and tell us what we can and cannot eat, drink, and smoke.
The presidency can break up businesses, shut down airlines, void drilling leases, bribe foreign heads of state or arrest them
Article from Mises Wire