In many ways, the 2016 presidential race has been unlike any in recent memory. The bases of both the Democrat and Republican parties, which often grumble during election seasons, are so unhappy with their respective establishments that they have embraced “outsider” candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. These disenchanted rank and file partisans see supporting these two candidates as a mixture of approval of the proposed policies and as a way of sticking it to their respective party’s leadership.
Of course, neither Trump nor Sanders is really an outsider. Sanders has been a politician for decades and Trump has long been buddies with public officials of many stripes. Nor does either candidate have a substantially different view of government than that of the establishments they pretend to oppose. To the degree that Trump and Sanders are different from their opponents, they are different only in that they are mild caricatures of the parties they represent. Trump’s over the top rhetoric about making America great is just the “conservative” idea of American exceptionalism on steroids. Sanders’ “democratic socialism” is indistinguishable from the economic rhetoric of nearly every Democratic candidate since FDR, perhaps differing from his predecessors in degree, but certainly not in kind.
Thus, much of the primary season’s commentary about the alleged radicalism of these two “outsiders” is so much hot air. Trump and Sanders are variations on a theme, but neither will change the theme itself.
And what is this theme? It is the continued centralization of political power not just in the federal government, but in the Executive branch. It is clear from their rhetoric that neither Trump nor Sanders intends to be less of a dictator than Barack Obama has been, just as Obama’s dictatorial tendencies grew from the fertile soil of executive overreach left by George W. Bush.
The same can be said of any of the remaining candidates. Hillary Clinton can be trusted to change the trajectory of government about as much as hipster can be trusted to shave. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both career politicians, seem to be unlikely candidates to reverse the pattern of presidential power acquisition.
The platforms of all of the candidates show that they all adhere to the same basic understanding of executive authority. From Sanders’ plans to tax and spend to Trump’s promise to build the Great Wall of ‘Murica, from Hillary’s “Sanders lite” economic policy to Ted Cruz’s stated intention to nuke the Middle East, each presidential candidate has exhibited an unwillingness to recognize that the American president has definite limits on his or her power to take direct action, to introduce legislation and to make war on foreigners without a declaration to that effect.
That the current slate of candidates holds such a high view of their own power is as unfortunate as it is unsurprising. That the voting public has gotten caught up in debating the details and not the underlying principles of the candidates’ various unconstitutional, illiberal policy proposals is tragic. One cannot reasonably expect politicians to altruistically limit their own power, but there’s no reason why the ruled should accept the rulers’ claims of increasing dominion over their lives. And yet the debate over who should be president has focused entirely on the specific claims of power by the candidates, rather than whether or not they should be claiming that power to begin with.
It is for this reason that I support nobody for president. There’s not a single person running who understands the Constitution, not to mention liberty. None of them will even attempt to stem the tide of encroaching executive power, much less reverse it. At the end of the next four years the president, whoever it may be, will be claiming more, not less, authority over our lives.
The American population, conditioned to recognize only the form and not the essence of political oppression, will be less free than it is today. But Americans will still rush out to vote for the next authoritarian who claims that his oppression will fall light on their shoulders or on other shoulders entirely.
In the larger view of America’s political landscape, it doesn’t really matter who is elected president. The candidates’ claims to power over all our lives have already been accepted by the public. The proof of this is that the election of one person commands so much attention from so many people who not only know that this one person has a singular influence on all their lives, but who honestly believe that this is as it should be.
The American president is an elected dictator in everything but title, and all of the candidates for that office embrace this truth. For this reason, no matter who wins, we’ve all already lost.