Alexander Hamilton was the first great theorist of the American executive. He believed that a vigorous president was necessary for the flourishing of the republic, that the president had to possess core virtues (a strong sense of justice, commitment to the national interest, prudence, courage), and that it was essential to create a selection process to weed out demagogues who would manipulate public fears, vanities, and prejudices to acquire and maintain power.
This “soul” was “lost” very soon after the Founding itself. Washington was a perfect embodiment of the Hamiltonian presidency . . . but Thomas Jefferson’s misguided faith in popular sovereignty led to an ineluctable process of presidential democratization. With this came all sorts of problems endemic to majoritarian tyranny: prejudice toward ethnic and racial minorities, undermining of the rule of law, and the proliferation of political corruption. The first truly demagogic president in Knott’s view was Andrew Jackson, and the “lowlights” of presidential governance include Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, and above all Donald Trump, the “apotheosis of the popular presidency.”
I’m not arguing that the trial verdict proves Gallagher’s virtue as a SEAL, but that wasn’t the question at issue in the case. Instead, it was yet another example of the reality that cases that can seem compelling at first glance often collapse under scrutiny.
Democrats are no more willing than social-conservative Trump supporters to lay down their culture-war objectives and enmities in order to save the constitution from the president. As Ross Douthat and others have pointed out, if liberals really believed that Trump was a threat to the constitutional order or a harbinger of fascism, they would begin doing what many liberals did after the 2004 election: making rhetorical and political gestures toward conservative churchgoers in order to mollify them and win the next election … Instead, one is tempted to think that liberals see Trump’s struggles as an opportunity to win more culture-war battles more comprehensively.