Lord give me a strong executive, but not yet

Those of you who have been watching the mostly excellent documentary on Barack Obama’s administration these past few weeks will have noted the scorched earth opposition the president has faced in trying to advance his domestic agenda. Admittedly it concentrates on presenting the views of the administration, but it is not intended to be an impartial, disinterested appraisal. And having followed the challenges faced by Obama during his time in office, and the determination of the Republican opposition to prevent him from actually governing at all, I can confidently aver that this documentary is not a hagiography.

This blog is ultimately ambivalent about the Obama presidency, and is bitterly disappointed on certain issues, but it is also unequivocal about Obama’s intellectual and temperamental qualities, and is generally inclined to believe his personal motives are noble. The overriding impression one has of his presidency, buttressed by the documentary series which concludes on Tuesday, is to bemoan the mechanisms of American federal governance. If only a president could be allowed to get things done, you say? Why must a president be hampered by a recalcitrant House or Senate?

At this moment, one is usually obliged to refer to the Founding Fathers of the United States, and indeed is compelled to salute their vision and the care with which they crafted the Constitution. But the Founders weren’t quite the uniquely wise seers they are typically held up to be, and one reading of their actions would point out how they were landowners and that one of their main agendas in designing the Constitution was to defend the interests of their own class. But perhaps that is unduly churlish. The documents that established the United States are in many ways quite inspirational, and the continued reverence in which they are held speaks on some level to the power of the ideas contained therein.

And concerning the limited powers of the presidency, we are perhaps seeing a reminder in this election cycle of the virtues in a constitutional arrangement designed to prevent the elevation of a tyrant. We were told this year’s election would bring out the Republican party’s “deep bench”, as various governors and senators with high profiles were going to throw their hat in the ring for 2016. As I write, all bar two have already been “trumped” by a manifestly unqualified candidate of a hue that is difficult to ascertain and with a thatch of dubious provenance, who has brought political debate to puerile lows from which it will take some considerable time to emerge. I was waiting for somebody to notice that Donald Trump is greatly esteemed by the protagonist of American Psycho, a book that seems to vaguely prefigure the dreadful scenario of an omnipresent Trump, and its juxtaposition with images of disturbing barbarity.

But perhaps we needn’t fret yet. Donald Trump is expected to lose in Wisconsin on Tuesday, and it may herald the moment when his challenge begins to irreversibly decline. It might be too early to suggest that the mysterious force field that protected him no matter what vile outpourings emerged from his mouth is now spent, but logically it seemed that a tipping point would be reached and he would eventually say something that would sink him. And maybe, just maybe, he’s insulted women once too often to maintain his hitherto commanding position in the Republican race.

And even was he to prevail and secure the GOP nomination, it increasingly seems probable that he would get “schlonged” in a national poll by Hillary Clinton, who is comfortably ahead of Trump at a time when polls really begin to matter. So fear not that Trump’s wacky foreign policy ideas won’t get further airing beyond November, and feel glum instead that tried and failed approaches to foreign policy will likely get reheated by a more interventionist Clinton administration, and which otherwise will bring with it its own set of problems.


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