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Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Why the Cult of the Presidency Must End

The president sits atop an executive branch octopus which has wrapped itself around seemingly every corner of American life.

Image Credit: Emma Kaden-Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

There is something terribly wrong with the presidency in America, and at the risk of sounding wistful and passe, the institution was much better in the distant past.

If any more light need be shed on the albino elephant in the room, the following will do so.

The Expansion of Presidential Power

President Biden’s first two weeks in office broke a record in terms of ruling by the pen, with him signing 24 executive orders, more than even Franklin Roosevelt signed in his first month, who previously held the record for most executive orders signed right out of the gate.

The president also has immense war powers allowing him to circumvent Congress and not even bother to declare war in order to go to war. In fact, the last time Congress was consulted on declaring war was in the summer of 1942, with regards to Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, minor allies of Nazi Germany.

Periodically, the federal legislature is consulted in the form of Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which grants plenary power to the president to use some unspecified amount of force to pursue a nebulous objective over an undefined time. Case in point, there are still active AUMFs for opposing communist aggression in the Middle East from 1957, for the Gulf War in 1991, and for the Iraq War of 2002. Military operations continue to be carried out under the auspices of these orders from decades or generations past. (Note to government: The 1950s called, they want their AUMF back.)

The president sits atop an executive branch octopus which has wrapped itself around seemingly every corner of American life. To this end, the IRS hired 87,000 taxmen (the profession that Christ often referred to as arch sinners, see Luke 18:9-14) to regulate the financial life of the country. For perspective, this number is larger by tens of thousands than the total annual recruitment of the United States Army.

The IRS immediately put the new agents and tens of billions in new funding to good use—to announce a new reporting system for tipped workers to ensure every cent they earn as gratuity is reported. As some witty internet denizens observed, the rich waitresses must pay their fair share too.

The president oversees and approves a spending bonanza which has an annual outlay sitting at $6 trillion dollars, a number which cannot even be comprehended. Indeed, much of the indifference towards federal spending can be attributed to the disconnect between average plebians who work for a living and do not deal with money denominated in billions and trillions. The average man (such as yours truly) knows it is very noticeable to spend a hundred dollars, that a thousand is often undoable unless on payments, and anything beyond that number except for a car, or house is outside his proverbial pay grade. After a certain point, the disconnect becomes so great that apathy naturally sets in. The late columnist Charles Krauthammer made a cogent suggestion about these unimaginable numbers:

“As we drift towards the fiscal abyss, I propose an interim measure: abolition of the words billion and trillion, words far too friendly to convey the enormity of the sums they are meant to denote. Politicians, in particular, should be forced to say thousand million for ‘billion’ and thousand thousand million for the flip ‘trillion.’

It is a linguistic crime that the easy, two-syllable ‘trillion,’ hitched to a humble number like 4, should be permitted to express a debt that, had William the Conqueror begun saving for it in 1066 at the rate of $1 million a day, would still be unpaid today.”

The Cult of the Presidency

The list goes on. Despite these crimes against the values which built America, those including but not limited to: prudence, non-aggression to one’s neighbors, liberty, individualism, morality, faithfulness, and justice, the presidency has become an icon of secular worship.

One might say that the imperial presidency and its public adulation and fealty were inevitable with the empowering of the federal government at large. The President sits atop the executive branch, that collection of entities which are tasked with doing things at the federal level, the same entities responsible for doing anything that the other two branches authorize or mandate. Congress grows the executive by voting for a larger and more centralized state year in and year out, and the judiciary does the same by undermining the Constitutional guidelines that prevent the enforcement apparatus from growing out of control.

After a certain point, the executive grows itself by the creation of new agencies, which in turn create new regulations until the Code of Federal Regulations becomes longer than the US Code. As the executive branch grows, its top dog in the White House will naturally become more influential and more powerful.

The increasing power of the federal government also draws more eyes away from subsidiary levels of government, which has the effect of artificially aggrandizing national over state and local politics. Even the general public is at least unconsciously aware that the US is drifting towards unitary government and the submerging of the states into the whole, which is evidenced by the dearth of attention paid to state and local politics compared to the time lavished on national politics and the nationalization of “key elections.”

In essence, as power flees from the periphery to the center, the stakes for control of the latter increase as he who controls it will control a growing portion of the output of the United States (as of now, government spending is 36 percent of gross domestic product, which means the state does indeed control a fraction of the economy so large that thinkers of yesteryear might have branded it as socialism).

He who controls the center, i.e. the president, will naturally become the object of adulation and opprobrium for various political demographics in tandem and proportion with government power. Hatred and Love are increasingly accurate to describe how average Americans feel about presidents and the intensity of the emotion will only rise as the malign and corrupted institution wraps its tentacles tighter yet around the American polity.

Decline Is a Choice

As doom and gloom as the above sounds, decline is a choice, and we the people can refuse to accede to it.

I am reminded of an old lecture by Lew Rockwell included in his book Speaking of Liberty, which was written two decades ago. It opened as follows: “Every four years, as the November presidential election draws near, I have the same daydream: that I don’t know or care who the president of the United States is.” On the surface, this is an odd statement from an intellectual, seeming to wish for blissful ignorance that modern politics can hardly provide, but it has a deeper meaning which is so outside the mainstream that it has been lost.

Imagine a world where the president does not sign 24 executive orders in two weeks, where he does not have plenary power to go to war wherever and whenever he wants, where his federal apparatus does not infect every corner of civil life, where his state does not spend $6 thousand thousand million dollars a year.

Imagine a world where government is not a behemoth, but instead a small, barely noticeable entity that one will run across only rarely over his life.

Imagine a world where our liberties do not hang in the balance every election, where they are beyond dispute, considered next to holy, and secure from the guileful demagogue.

Imagine a world without armies of taxmen or soldiers, without tens of thousands of pages of regulations, without regime instability or socialistic dreams. In that world, what would the president have power over? America could elect him, and promptly forget his name.

This is the world Lew Rockwell and myself are very interested in achieving; one of peace, prosperity, non-aggression, and civilization. This can be achieved, but first we must dethrone the king by ending the imperial presidency, restoring the model set by our forefathers. Both those who have gone before and posterity watch from beyond. The next move is our choice, and our choice alone.


  • Cruz Marquis is a former US Marine, a current economics student, and the administrator of TheConservativeCritique.com.