Trump Stress Test
David talks to the historian Sarah Churchwell about how well America's political institutions have withstood the stress of the last four years. Have we seen the limits of presidential power or have we discovered how easy it is to trash those limits? Are constitutional checks and balances still intact? Is it really Mitch McConnell who is putting American democracy under stress? Plus we talk about what will be needed to restore the social contract and the perils of political humility.
Many of the founding institutions in political life have been put under stress during the Trump administration.
- Trump has said a lot, but he hasn’t done much. We’ll have a better sense of the extent of the damage after the election.
- Trump’s behaviour often gets more outlandish as the constraints on his power become more visible.
The power of the U.S. executive has been growing, certainly since 9/11.
- Both Bush and Obama strengthened the executive presidency.
- Some have argued that Trump’s incompetence precludes authoritarianism. Strong men have to be strong.
- But from an institutional standpoint, the Trump presidency has revealed that the American system is vulnerable to strongmen leaders.
Because congressional Republicans have sanctioned his behaviour, Trump has not been as constrained as he might have been.
- The other institutional check that often flies under the radar is states rights.
- The electoral system is bound up in local state power. Every state has a series of strong, legally required actions that go into certifying vote counts.
- So far, states rights has been the most effective check on Trump’s power.
We focus on Trump, but the lasting legacy of the Trump presidency may be elsewhere.
- If the lasting legacy of Trump is in the judiciary branch, it won’t be because he created a Trumpian judiciary.
- In this sense, Trump is the enabler of Mitch McConnell rather than the other way around.
- McConnell’s agenda is about obstructing the Democrats and consolidating Republican power.
Trump has not been able to totalize authoritarian control.
- Certain aspects of liberalism have gotten stronger during the Trump administration.
- There can be an authoritarian regime without an authoritarian state.
Mentioned in this Episode:
- Sarah on impeachment for Talking Politics American Histories
- Sarah on TP on American fascism
- Kimberly Jones, ‘How Can We Win’
- Ross Douthat, ‘There Will Be No Trump Coup’