Donald Trump is becoming increasingly irrelevantPosted by Josh Taylor / January 29, 2019
If aliens were to watch United States news channels and read our newspapers, they would assume that the president is the single most important person in the nation. They might even assume that the president is the sole ruler of this country. If they paid very close attention, they could perhaps articulate some separation of powers, but still it would seem as though the buck stopped with the president.
They’d be right, in some ways. Since FDR, we have invested the president with increasing power and authority, turning him into a kind of totem for our civil religion, a steersman for the ship of state, a shaper of legislature, a de facto spokesperson for our political parties, and a rallying point for our country in times of threat––which seems to be all the time since FDR.
It’s important to realize, however, that this was not always the case. Once upon a time, Congress was obviously the most powerful branch of government, and the Speaker of the House was among the most powerful people in the nation. Nancy Pelosi has just reminded us of that by rallying congressional Democrats to thwart an agenda spearheaded by President Donald Trump.
Trump has obviously withdrawn a bit from the limelight since his defeat, as has his administration. Note this Tweet:
The reason Sarah Sanders does not go to the “podium” much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately, in particular certain members of the press. I told her not to bother, the word gets out anyway! Most will never cover us fairly & hence, the term, Fake News!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2019
Until very recently, Sanders hadn’t given a press briefing for over forty days. Even when she broke her long silence, most media outlets didn’t cover the briefing:
Sarah Sanders is at the White House podium and the only network taking her live is Fox News. CNN & MSNBC both sticking with regular programming.
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) January 28, 2019
Rather than run the country, Trump has turned his attention to giving White House tours. You might want to read that sentence again. He’s giving tours of the White House––in between the eight or so hours of TV he watches. During these tours, he allegedly points out a part of the White House with particularly lurid history: “I’m told this is where Bill and Monica . . .” He doesn’t say more, but this statement apparently has led to long, crude conversations.
The presidency is an intentionally weakened position. The Framers designed it that way to present a tyranny, and American tradition has kept it that way. That’s why the president must be invited to give the State of the Union, and that’s what was at the heart of the final days of the shutdown showdown when Pelosi refused to invite Trump to give his speech. She said she would do so when the shutdown was over. True to her word, now that the shutdown is over she has invited him to deliver the State of the Union on February 5.
It is a cowed Trump that should be entering the House chambers that day. But more importantly, it should be a grateful––and wiser––nation that tunes in. The shutdown was a damned mess, but it proves that the government is working exactly how it should. Trump tried to flex the muscles of the office of president––muscles that have been artificially inflated since FDR––and Congress did exactly what it was designed to: prevented the executive branch from becoming too powerful.