Trump’s Problem: The Presidency
Donald Trump has a problem. And it’s the presidency.
A president has no personal authority or power; s/he has or should have only official power, i.e., whatever powers are granted by her or his “office.” Trump, like many others, seems to think his power is personal, that it adheres in him, his person, not in his office. He is not a monarch or a pope; he is merely a president and this for only a designated amount of time.
This distinction is difficult to keep straight because of, among other things, the White House, which was originally known as “the president’s palace.” The White House blurs the distinction between personal and official power because it is both a personal residence and an office, much as is Buckingham Palace or the Vatican. Hence, the presidency has – as both the Federalists and Anti-Federalists knew – monarchical characteristics, leading presidents to see themselves as something like monarchs, i.e., as those whose power is personal and exists whether performing official duties or not. As president, that Nixon had this idea is illustrated by his willingness to “crash a wedding” and, more importantly, by his assertion that “if the president does it, it is not illegal.” Officials can be held accountable whenever they “break the law,” but monarchs cannot.
Being an egomaniac, Trump just assumes that his power is personal, not official. In his mind, he was elected but not to execute an office, but to, personally, “make America great again.” This is not, of course, an official duty. Hence, his office does not define or limit his power, does not confer authority upon him. It is, of course, not clear what the source of his power and authority are, but whatever their source, in his mind, Trump is not merely an official, an officer obligated to perform certain duties for the sake of the well-being of others. This is what Trump’s egotistical blustering is all about and its intensity reflects his awareness, however unconscious this might be, that he is a “public servant” and merely one of a number of executives, chief though he may be.
This confusion is what makes Trump dangerous, just as it made Richard Nixon and others dangerous. But it is also what makes it fairly certain that the Trump presidency, like the presidencies of Woodrow Wilson, LBJ, and Richard Nixon, will self-destruct. For although the presidency is something like a monarchy, it is best described as a disguised monarchy, because it makes those occupying that office, unlike real monarchs, accountable for their actions, both private and public. And after the presidencies LBJ, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II, all of whom were held accountable for their misfeasances, malfeasances, and abuses of power, I think we can rest assured that “judgment day” is coming for Trump. He can run but he cannot hide – thanks to the Constitution.