Remember Daniel Hannan? He’s the British Member of the European Parliament who shot to international attention in 2009 for an electrifying anti-debt speech (seriously, take three minutes and watch it here).
Writing today at the Washington Examiner, Hannan—who’s about as close to libertarian as one can find across the pond—has penned a killer takedown of the imperial pomp and power of the American presidency:
To be honest, I’m getting slightly fed up with all the talk of a “monarchical” White House. Real monarchs are, in the main, humbler, cheaper and far more respectful of the way things are supposed to work.
Still, we shouldn’t blame Mr. Obama alone. For at least 100 years, power has been dribbling from the 50 states to Washington, and from the legislature to the executive. America’s permanent federal bureaucracy has become an unofficial fourth branch, assuming most of the competences once exercised by the Crown.
Do you imagine that President Hillary Clinton would reverse this trend? Or President Donald Trump? Even the most literalist conservatives have a tendency to give themselves the benefit of the doubt once their own hands are on the levers of power.
And shall I tell you the worst thing? Hardly anyone seems to care. As long as people are getting the outcomes they want, they lose interest in process.
Hannan’s arguement is particularly timely given this week’s State of the Union (SOTU) address, which will be President Obama’s last.
As Kevin Williamson wrote in his gutting attack on this “nauseating spectacle,” the SOTU is
a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying, a black Mass during which every unholy order of teacup totalitarian and cringing courtier gathers under the towering dome of a faux-Roman temple to listen to a speech with no content given by a man with no content.
Like Hannan’s aside about the comparative bargain that is the British monarchy, Williamson later points out the stark contrast between the glorification of the American presidency and the simpler way of life expected of high-ranking government officials in other countries.
One need not go to the extreme of Uruguay’s President José Mujica—who famously lived on a farm without running water, drove a 1987 VW bug, and donated 90 percent of his presidential salary to charity—to find humbler practices than the glitter of Washington, D.C. As Williamson notes, many legislators, royals, and heads of state abroad fly commercial and use public transport, just like their constituents.
In America, by contrast, the “president stages a Roman triumph every time he heads out for a round of golf.”
The unseemly dose of celebrity in American politics is presently at peak levels, thanks to Donald Trump’s campaigntainment and the longstanding fascination of the media with every minuscule detail of the Obama family’s lives—those golfing trips, of course, plus eating habits, clothing choices, exercise routines, and more.
The attention given to these inanities is part and parcel of the over-powerful executive tomorrow’s SOTU epitomizes. It serves as a distraction from real issues and a presidential power grab all at once.