A few weeks ago, when some polls were showing a dead-heat Presidential contest, an article in the Weekly Standard titled “Donald Trump Cannot Save Our Republic” began
This rhetoric is well-designed to prey upon the fears of conservatives who loathe Hillary Clinton, but it is not the language of American republicanism. Indeed, the fact that it has gained such traction on the right is a signal that many conservatives themselves have lost touch with the traditions of our constitutional system.
Put simply: This argument places the presidency at the center of American political life, which is a progressive innovation popularized by Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. The Framers rejected this implicitly, for most of their attention was spent perfecting the legislative branch, which was to be the primary repository of political power, as well as the tribune of the people.
The article argued that support for Trump would not only be implicit support for the (relatively) new centrality of the Presidency, it would allow conservatives and others to continue ignoring the real problem: Congress.
The ailment, simply put, is this: Congress is a basket case. It refuses to exercise many of its sovereign responsibilities under the Constitution. Many of the tasks it retains it executes badly. Worst of all, the legislature itself has ceded these authorities. They were not taken from it, but granted, happily, of its own volition. A return to true constitutional government does not require us to elect a kingly president who vaguely sympathizes with the platform of the Republican party, but insisting that the legislature reconstitute itself under the Framers’ original vision.
I do not necessarily agree with every point raised in the article, but its major thrust is clearly on target. I’ve written previously about the consequences of Americans’ evident–and troubling–belief that every four years we elect a monarch, who will either keep the promises made on the campaign trail, or earn public ire for failing to do so.
That drastically inaccurate view of the executive ignores Constitutional checks and balances, blames whoever holds the office of President for doing or not doing things over which he (or she) has influence but ultimately no control, and–worse– lets Congress off the hook. That view also explains why turnout falls off precipitously in off-year elections.
Voters who don’t recognize the importance of the legislative function fail to pay attention to the qualifications and temperament–let alone the work ethic–of those they send to Congress. The result is a legislature filled with partisan ideologues, empty suits (and too often, idiots) who are woefully unprepared to carry their share of the governing load.
As the article notes, “Reform of the legislature begins with electing to it a majority that is actually interested in reform.” To which I would add, “and actually interested in governing.”
The Presidency is important. In this election,which offers a choice between a well-qualified politician who operates–in P.J. O’Rourke’s memorable phrase–within normal paramagnets, and a dangerously autocratic ignoramus, it is supremely important. But we ignore our choices for the Senate and House at the nation’s peril.