When a di­min­ish­ing pres­i­dent is a good thing

The Sentinel-Record - - VIEWPOINTS - Ge­orge Will Copy­right 2017, Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers group

WASH­ING­TON — Look­ing, as pru­dent peo­ple are dis­in­clined to do, on the bright side, there are a few va­grant rea­sons for cheer­ful­ness, be­gin­ning with this: Sum­mer love is sprout­ing like dan­de­lions. To the list of his­tory’s sub­lime ro­mances — Abe­lard and Heloise, Romeo and Juliet, El­iz­a­beth Ben­net and Mr. Darcy — add the tor­rid af­fair be­tween An­thony Scara­mucci and Don­ald Trump. The for­mer’s siz­zling swoon for the lat­ter is the most re­mark­able pub­lic dis­play of hor­monal heat since — here a melan­choly thought in­trudes — Jeff Ses­sions tum­bled into love with Trump. Long ago. Last year.

Ses­sions serves at the plea­sure of the pres­i­dent, who does not seem pleased. Still, sym­pa­thy for Ses­sions is in or­der: What is he to do? If dig­nity con­cerned him, he would re­sign; but if it did, he would not oc­cupy a Trump-be­stowed of­fice from which to re­sign. Such are the co­nun­drums of cur­rent pol­i­tics. Con­cern­ing which, there is ex­ces­sive gloom.

“To see what is in front of one’s nose,”

Ge­orge Or­well wrote, “needs a con­stant strug­gle.” An un­no­ticed rea­son for cheer­ful­ness is that in one, if only one, par­tic­u­lar, Trump is some­thing the na­tion did not know it needed — a fee­ble pres­i­dent whose man­ner can cure the na­tion’s ex­ces­sive fix­a­tion with the pres­i­dency.

Ex­ec­u­tive power ex­panded, with only oc­ca­sional pauses (thank you, Pres­i­dents Taft and Coolidge, of blessed mem­ory), through­out the 20th cen­tury and has surged in the 21st. Af­ter 2001, “The De­cider” de­cided to start a pre­ven­tive war and to coun­te­nance tor­ture pro­hib­ited by treaty and statute. His suc­ces­sor had “a pen and a phone,” an in­dif­fer­ence to the Con­sti­tu­tion’s Take Care Clause (the pres­i­dent “shall take care that the laws be faith­fully ex­e­cuted”) and dis­dain for the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers, for which he was re­peat­edly re­buked by the Supreme Court.

For­tu­nately, to­day’s pres­i­dent is so in­no­cent of in­for­ma­tion that Congress can­not con­tinue de­fer­ring to ex­ec­u­tive pol­i­cy­mak­ing. And be­cause this pres­i­dent has nei­ther a his­tory of party iden­ti­fi­ca­tion nor an un­der­stand­ing of re­cip­ro­cal loy­alty, con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans are reac­quir­ing a con­sti­tu­tional — a Madis­o­nian — ethic. It man­dates a prickly de­fense of in­sti­tu­tional in­ter­ests, plac­ing those in­ter­ests above de­vo­tion to par­ties that al­low them­selves to be de­fined episod­i­cally by their pres­i­dents.

Fur­ther­more, to­day’s pres­i­dent is do­ing in­valu­able dam­age to Amer­i­cans’ in­fan­tiliz­ing as­sump­tion that the pres­i­dency mag­i­cally en­velops its oc­cu­pant with a nim­bus of se­ri­ous­ness. Af­ter the pres­i­dent went to West Vir­ginia to ha­rangue some (prob­a­bly mys­ti­fied) Boy Scouts about his mag­nif­i­cence and per­se­cu­tions, he con­fessed to Ohioans that Lin­coln, but only Lin­coln, was more “pres­i­den­tial” than he. So much for the aus­tere and ret­i­cent first pres­i­dent, who, when the of­fice was soft wax, tried to fash­ion a style of dig­nity com­pat­i­ble with repub­li­can sim­plic­ity.

Fas­tid­i­ous peo­ple who worry that the pres­i­dent’s West Vir­ginia and Ohio per­for­mances — the al­pha male as cry­baby — di­min­ished the pres­i­dency are miss­ing the point, which is: For now, worse is bet­ter. Diminu­tion drains this of­fice of the sac­er­do­tal pom­posi­ties that have en­crusted it. There will be 42 more months of this pres­i­dent’s in­creas­ingly hi­lar­i­ous-be­yond-satire apoth­e­o­sis of him­self, leav­ened by his in­ces­sant whin­ing about his tribu­la­tions (“What dunce sad­dled me with this silly at­tor­ney gen­eral who takes my pol­icy ex­pos­tu­la­tions se­ri­ously?”). This pro­tracted learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, which the pub­lic chose to have and which should not be trun­cated, might whet the pub­lic’s ap­petite for an adult pres­i­dent con­fi­dent enough to wince at, and dis­dain, the ado­ra­tion of his most com­i­cally grov­el­ing hirelings.

Speak­ing of Scara­mucci, and in his de­fense: His love in­ter­est, the pres­i­dent, was elected for his per­sona rather than his prin­ci­ples. Hence there is a vac­uum at the cen­ter of the per­son who is at the cen­ter of the coun­try’s ab­surdly pres­i­dent-cen­tric con­cep­tion of gov­ern­ment. There­fore, loy­alty in­evitably manifests it­self as syco­phancy. Nev­er­the­less, the smit­ten Scara­mucci is him­self ev­i­dence of some­thing en­cour­ag­ing: Up­ward so­cial as­pi­ra­tion is still as Amer­i­can as Jay Gatsby.

When plight­ing his troth to Trump, Scara­mucci re­peat­edly con­fessed his “love” for his em­ployer, thereby ex­ceed­ing Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin’s com­par­a­tively pal­lid tes­ti­mo­nial to the pres­i­dent’s “su­per­hu­man” health. Scara­mucci grew up in Port Wash­ing­ton, the Long Is­land com­mu­nity that is East Egg in F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Gatsby lived in West Egg, yearn­ing to live across the wa­ter, where shone the beck­on­ing green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. Scara­mucci’s as­cent to a glory sur­pass­ing even that avail­able in East Egg shows that the light on the lectern in the White House press room is, at last, some­thing com­men­su­rate to his ca­pac­ity for won­der.

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