President Trump and the Democrats, terrorism, immigration, the environment, race and gender, inequality, and the economy dominate current political discourse. But there are other systemic issues to which I think we should turn our attention. These are: One, the current state and future prospects of the imperial presidency, and two, the current state and future prospects of the imperial bureaucracy.
The modern American presidency and regulatory-welfare-warfare state date from FDR, the Great Depression and the New Deal, and World War II. Existing judicial and congressional restraints were substantially reduced during the decades of Democratic ascendancy, the demands of the civil-rights revolution, the steady growth of entitlements, and the Cold War. Democrats Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, each in their own way, added to the scope of the office, whereas Republicans Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and the Bushes diminished neither presidential authority nor the expanding state.
So far, Trump's conduct of his office has been hardly more self-effacing. The hostile media is as quick to dwell on his assertions of power as it was to minimize Obama's growing taste for direct action. This may well have the effect of strengthening the view that the presidency could be reduced in its scope and authority. There have been foretastes of this: LBJ's decision not to run again in 1968; Nixon's near-impeachment in 1974; Clinton's impeachment in 1998. Now it is well within the realm of probability that both Republican and Democratic members of Congress could find common ground in a more constrained presidency.
The reassertion of congressional and judicial authority, and a renewed, state-based American federalism, seem to me more within reach than at any time in living memory. True, the likelihood of this happening may not be very high. But Trump's limited appeal, the obvious inability of the present system of American government to respond to popular wants and needs, and the growing evidence that the problem is international and not just American, make it worth discussing.
Consider the recent impeachments of the presidents of Brazil and South Korea; the likely election of Emmanuel Macron, a young politician with no attachment to the existing party system, to the French presidency; and the widespread British discontent, reflected in Thursday's election results, with both Prime Minister Theresa May and her Labor challenger Jeremy Corbyn.
The social democratic welfare state shows increasing signs of being past its sell-by date. So do the populist-nationalist appeal of Marine Le Pen's National Front—and the far-leftism of Greece's Syriza party. This rejection of authoritarian styles of government (not everywhere; see Turkey and Hungary) goes hand-in-hand with the quest for more decentralized government (see the new super-mayoralties in England, and the relative popularity of some American governors compared to just about all congressional leaders).