20.2.17

ROLL BACK THE IMPERIAL CULT.

National Review's Kevin Williamson wants to abolish Presidents Day.  Worst.  Holiday.  Ever.

I suspect he'd be in an even less cheerful mood if he is, as I currently am, listening to Hardball with Tingles and the usual crop of Smug Establishmentarians giving the usual suspects a tongue bath.  (Although Tingles expresses some surprise that Dwight Eisenhower becomes No. 5 in the latest poll of historians, behind Lincoln, Washington, and the Roosevelts, Franklin first.  Perhaps historians are finally figuring out that it was during the Eisenhower era that America was Great?  John Kennedy is still ahead of Reagan and Lyndon Johnson, but there used to be sentiment that Lyndon Johnson belonged in the top five ...)

Mr Williamson is not so impressed.
The presidency today is a grotesquerie. It is a temporary kingship without the benefit of blood or honor or antiquity, which is to say a combination of the worst aspects of monarchy with the worst aspects of democracy, a kind of inverted Norway. (King Olav V, the “folkekonge,” was famous for using public transit.) It is steeped in imperial ceremony, from the risible and unworthy monkey show that is the State of the Union address to the motorcades and Air Force One to the elevation of the first lady (or, increasingly, “First Lady”) to the position of royal consort; our chief magistracy gives the impression of being about five minutes away from purple robes, if not togas. (There is in Philadelphia a wonderful statue of Ben Franklin in a toga, which one can sort of imagine so long as one also imagines him chugging beer with the wild boys in Tau Delta Chi.) And what kind of god-emperor does not have a national day set aside for worshiping him and his kind?

This is nuts.
If the Trump presidency is the vehicle by which people question the Cult of the Presidency and the expectation of Bright Shiny Things, bring it!

While we're at it, perhaps we can be more precise about the roles of the president.  Head of State for ceremonial occasions, sure.  But head of government?  Not really.  The distinction works better for parliamentary monarchies, for instance Queen Elizabeth is Head of State for the United Kingdom, and the Prime Minister is Head of Government, by virtue of being Majority Leader.  That's not how the Federal Constitution works.
The president of the United States is the chief officer of the federal bureaucracy, the head of one branch of a government that has three co-equal branches. Strictly speaking, it is not given to him even to make law, but only to see to the enforcement of the laws passed by Congress (and maybe to veto one here and there) and to appoint appropriate people, like the former CEO of Carl’s Jr., to high federal offices. In the legislative branch, the House of Representatives is the accelerator and the Senate is the brake; the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are pretty much all brake; the presidency is a kind of hybrid, sometimes pressing for needful reform and action, sometimes standing in Congress’s way when it is rash or overly ambitious. The architecture of our constitutional order is a complicated and delicate balance.
Now is the time for the fanatical Turf Trump Out types to figure this out. The irony ... calling for authoritarian methods to head off what those types see as an authoritarian presidency??  A military coup?  Seriously?  Some kind of procedural action by the Washington bureaucracy (the permanent government or the deep state if you will)?  Once you embark on that course ...

That's what gridlock is for.  Embrace it.
But the president is not the tribune of the plebs. He is not a sacred person or the holder of a sacred office. He is neither pontifex nor imperator. He is not the spiritual distillation of the republic or the personification of our national ideals and values. (Thank God Almighty.) He is not even primus inter pares like the chief justice of the Supreme Court [c.q.] or the Patriarch of Constantinople. He is the commander in chief in time of war (which, since we have abandoned the advice of Washington and Eisenhower, is all of the time, now) and the chief administrator of the federal bureaucracy. That is it.

But men demand to be ruled, and they will find themselves a king even when there is none. (Consider all of the hilarious and self-abasing celebration of Donald Trump as an “alpha male” among his admirers, an exercise in chimpanzee sociology if ever there were one.) But they must convince themselves that they are being ruled by a special sort of man; in ancient times, that was the function of the hereditary character of monarchies. In our times, it is reinforced through civic religion, including the dopey annual exercise that is Presidents’ Day.

Abolish it. Mondays are for working.
A number of local schools take Presidents Day off, rather than Lincoln's Birthday, which used to be a secular holy day here in the Land of Lincoln, but at Northern Illinois University, it has always been a busier working day, with high schoolers coming in to check out the place.

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