July 20, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

‘Monarchists at heart’ tend to forget about democratic politics

"Owning" the presidency is not all that really counts.

Screenshot 2023-07-20 1.19.24 PM

Share this article

The criminal former president looks like he’s going to be indicted for a third time, perhaps tomorrow, this time in connection to his leadership of an attempted paramilitary takeover of the United States government in 2021. 

At the same time, Donald Trump looks like he’s going to campaign less like a candidate seeking the consent of the American people and more like a monarch denied his birthright. He’s acting as if he’s already been enthroned and that the election is merely an affirmation of that fact.

According to the Times, if he’s elected for a second time, Trump plans to launch the greatest expansion of presidential power in our lifetimes. 

It would be a “maximalist version of the so-called unitary executive theory,” an “effort by conservative legal thinkers to undercut what has become known as the administrative state — agencies that enact regulations aimed at keeping the air and water clean and food, drugs and consumer products safe, but that cut into business profits.”

Trump wants that kingly power, but we know it won’t work. He already tried. He tried and failed, because there were too many people in the government, armed with a combination of self-interest and republican ideals, who resisted.

But, in light of Trump’s (likely) third indictment, it’d be more than that. 

In a sense, Trump is seeking the power of kings who claimed to be the right hand of God, and, like God, infallible. He wants to be subject of law, but never its object – law-giver, not law-receiver. And yet he seems to believe most Americans will find this appealing. It’s as if his campaign slogan were: “As your rightful king, I have a right to your vote.”

With this (likely) third indictment and with this new reporting, we understand better than before that Trump is trying to deliver to his “conservative” followers what they have long coveted in a president, according to the conservative who founded the Heritage Foundation. 

“Many conservatives are monarchists at heart,” wrote Paul Weyrich decades ago, in 1987, in the Post. “They love the presidency. They think that if you own the presidency, that is all that really counts.”

It’s not all that really counts.

“Trump’s plan for an all-powerful, unconstrained presidency … is … a formula for authoritarian government,” wrote Bloomberg‘s Jonathan Bernstein on Wednesday. “One-person rule — even elected one-person rule — is simply not compatible with republican ideals.”

True, but Trump’s real problem is democratic politics.

“Monarchists at heart” tend to forget about it.

Here’s what Trump wants to do, according to the Times.

  • Bring independent agencies like the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission and perhaps even the Federal Reserve Bank “under direct presidential control.” 
  • Revive the Nixon era “practice of ‘impounding’ funds,” meaning the defunding of things that the Congress has already paid for.
  • Make it easier to fire civil servants if “deemed obstacles to his agenda.” This is the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
  • Remove people at the Departments of State and Defense whom he has vilified as “the sick political class that hates our country.”

And so on.

The Times goes on to explain that independent and technically complex agencies were intended to carry out the will of Congress. It put “commissioners atop them whom presidents appoint but generally cannot fire before their terms end.” It also used “its control of their budgets to keep them partly accountable to lawmakers as well.” 

Congress established these agencies “on the condition that it was not simply handing off that power to presidents to wield like kings.”


Trump wants that kingly power, but we know it won’t work. He already tried. He tried and failed, because there were too many people in the government, armed with a combination of self-interest and republican ideals, who resisted. He wants a rematch. He might get it. But even if he does, his second term would look similar to his first, only more chaotic.

“It would be a nonstop gunfight with the Congress and the courts,” John Kelly, Trump’s second White House chief of staff, told the Times

Indeed, but this chaos shouldn’t be seen as chaos only. It’s one of the consequences of democratic politics. “Monarchists at heart” are not, generally speaking, small-d democrats. So they tend to forget that.

The Heritage Foundation intellectuals who are advising Trump say that their ideas are “paradigm-shifting.” They aren’t. If anything, they call for doing the same thing, over and over, while expecting different results.

They also expect that owning the “administrative state” is merely a matter of owning the presidency. Once you own that – once you own, in the parlance of conservative legal theory, a maximized unitary executive – the administrative state will get in line. Owning the presidency is, to these monarchists at heart, all that really counts. 

It’s not all that really counts. 

Monarchists at heart might know that. 

If they weren’t monarchists at heart.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

Leave a Comment

Want to comment on this post?
Click here to upgrade to a premium membership.