Other critics insist that the way he flatters Putin suggests something even darker when seen in the context of his suspicious business ties to Russians, his determination to hide the details of his finances, the closeness of his political associates’ corrupt ties to Moscow, and Trump’s flagrant lies about those associates. With a publication as mainstream as New York titling a cover story, “Will Trump Be Meeting With His Counterpart—Or His Handler?” it is clear that the president is regarded by many of his countrymen as every bit the possibly traitorous usurper that Birther Trump kept implying his predecessor to be.
Whatever the reason for Trump’s sycophantic relationship with Putin, this is a hugely consequential and embarrassing geopolitical moment for a very divided United States. And it ought to be a lesson for much of the anti-Trump establishment, including those who believe Trump is merely morally compromised and those who believe he is compromised by financial leverage, as-yet-revealed evidence of collusion with Russia, or some other kind of blackmail.
The Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, and many of the think tanks and political organizations that allied with them, spent 25 years advocating for various expansions of presidential power, often based on the premise that some feature of the modern world required a muscular executive to get things done.
Critics who worried that the Constitution’s separation of powers was being subverted in ways that would ultimately haunt the country were dismissed by establishment conservatives, centrists, and progressives. “The founders’ anxieties about executive tyranny have proven erroneous,” Eric Posner wrote during Obama’s second term. “The president is kept in check by elections, the party system, the press, popular opinion, courts, a political culture that is deeply suspicious of his motives, term limits, and the sheer vastness of the bureaucracy which he can only barely control. He does not always do the right thing, of course, but presidents generally govern from the middle of the political spectrum.”
Because of those establishment elites and the myriad ways that they championed executive power at the expense of the legislature, whether with visions of pragmatic technocracy or “national greatness” or advancing “social justice,” Trump exercises far more control than he otherwise would over matters as diverse as war, foreign trade, international treaties, and military alliances.
Perhaps Trump will prove all his critics wrong in this week’s summit. But if he undermines America’s values or interests in some way that is at odds with how most members of Congress and a majority of the public would’ve had things done, one lesson will hold regardless of whether his actions flowed from corrupted values or corruption—the lesson that a strong legislature offers greater protection against destabilizing anomalies. There is no way to eliminate the dangers that an unfit president poses. It is best not to elect one in the first place.