posner13_SAUL LOEBAFP via Getty Images_obama SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Long Live the Imperial Presidency?

Over time, the office of the US presidency has grown only more powerful, despite perennial hand-wringing by commentators and the party that is out of power. Though there are a number of possible explanations for this trend, the most straightforward is that it is what the public wants.

CHICAGO – One of the striking contrasts between the Trump and Biden administrations is in the debate about whether the presidency has achieved more power than is consistent with the public good. Donald Trump’s term in office was accompanied by a drumbeat of commentaries arguing that the presidency had become too powerful, enabling a madman or despot to destroy Americans’ liberties. The critics urged Congress and the courts to reassert themselves before the country slid into authoritarianism.

Since Joe Biden took office, however, Democrats have done nothing to rein in the presidency – even though they know that a Trump-like figure, or Trump himself, may succeed Biden. Instead, they have shifted their institutional focus to voting rights.

Why are Democrats squandering the opportunity to reform the presidency? One explanation is that Democrats do not want to risk hobbling their president, especially because control of Congress might slip from their grasp in the 2022 midterm elections. If Democrats lose control of the House or the Senate, achieving their policy agenda will require them to embrace the strong presidential power that they decried a year ago.