Is the U.S. Returning to Its Imperial Roots?

In 1776, the United States declared its independence of Great Britain. The Americans had had their fill of aristocracy and monarchy. Once they had defeated the British, they wrote a constitution that would establish and constrain the federal government. The head of state, for example, now a president rather than a king, would be limited to enforcing laws that an elected Congress enacted.

Constitution or not, the country seems to be looking more and more like the United Kingdom under George III. While it doesn’t have an aristocracy of nobles, it certainly has an aristocracy of great wealth, both earned (Read more…) inherited. And, with the help of the Supreme Court, this aristocracy in combination with corporate interests now has more power than the people.

This isn’t exactly what the founding fathers intended. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, declared “I hope we shall crush… in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” Well, in fact, that aristocracy that so concerned Jefferson has prospered mightily and now dominates government.

And although the U.S. doesn’t have a king, it does have an increasingly imperial president. As the power of the country has grown, so has the power of the presidency, especially since 9/11. The Constitution determined that the power to initiate a war belonged to Congress, but the president has acquired more war powers despite the Constitution. He reigns supreme in foreign policy and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, so the massive buildup of the military has in itself greatly expanded presidential power. Being able to go to war would seem to be a kingly privilege.

And the power of the president is by no means restricted to foreign affairs. He can exercise great influence over the economy as we have seen with Donald Trump, who has managed to throw the whole world economy into confusion with his arbitrary actions. And through his cabinet appointments he can greatly influence other areas, such as the environment, an area Trump is also undermining.

Indeed, Trump apparently believes that Article II of the Constitution allows him to do anything he wants as president. And one of his impeachment lawyers, Alan Dershowitz of O.J. Simpson and Jeffrey Epstein fame has stated, “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” Considering that every politician considers his election to be in the public interest, that would seem to give the president carte blanche. Are we edging toward the divine right of presidents?

One wonders where the people are in all this. They continue to play a role, of course, but an increasingly diminished one. They seem to be almost back to where they started, subject to a king and his nobles. Has American history come full circle?