“Shall we have a king?” asked founding father John Jay in 1787 during the discussions that led to the drafting in the US Constitution.
One of the things that always strikes me as odd about the role of the President of the United States is how much it seems to resemble that of a king.
A commentator on Radio 4* this week was talking about how much President Obama had relied on executive powers to carry through many of his policies in the face of a hostile Congress – the kinds of powers that no British Prime Minister could ever have. As a concept, this, and the surprising amount of deference that Americans afford to the office of President, can sound less like a democratically elected politician and more like a king.
But this is a very 18th century Enlightenment kind of a king – he has a four year reign and can be called to account by the Congress and the judiciary (albeit including a politically appointed Supreme Court) – and, in an ideal a vaguely functional world, a free press.
Our Government should in some Degree be suited to our Manners and Circumstances, and They you know are not strictly democratical.
So maybe the founding fathers weren’t as revolutionary as they thought. They had a revolution to reject what they didn’t like (kings and taxes and laws made by a remote legislature) – but that was in 1776. It took them another 10 years to work out a new constitutional settlement.**
In hindsight, that settlement looks more like a collection of step changes. The result was – and remains – far from perfect. It failed to prevent a bloody civil war and has repeatedly failed to encompass large swathes of the population in the comforting arms of its lofty ideals.
But it’s a settlement that has endured. It’s endured, because it recognizes the need for checks and balances; recognizes the importance of the rule of law; and, most importantly, has shown itself capable of change – it’s a settlement of step changes.
Now may be a time for such changes, but just because they don’t happen instantaneously at the behest of an online poll or within a presidential term of office, doesn’t mean that they won’t happen.
So should we be concerned about Donald Trump as he prepares for his Presidential coronation? Yes. Should we be running round in ever decreasing circles screaming hysterically about the sky falling in? I think not. He’s one man among 300 million (over a million of whom are lawyers) and he’ll be gone in 4 year’s time***.
* Other radio stations are available
** Any resemblance to Brexit is purely coincidental
*** With a bit of luck
Quotation: John Jay (1745-1821) to George Washington, 7th January 1787
Picture credit: Microsoft clipart