Guy W. Farmer: Our imperial presidency
When billionaire businessman Donald J. Trump downsizes into the White House on Friday, he’ll become a captive of the Secret Service, and he won’t like it. That’s because the president of the United States must live in a 24/7/365 security bubble whether he likes it or not.
Over the years our leaders have created an imperial presidency featuring an oppressive White House bureaucracy that controls every minute of every day of the president’s life. That’s not how The Donald lives his life, and I think major conflicts will occur during his presidency.
I thought about how Trump, a supremely self-confident egomaniac, will deal with the requirements and restrictions of the presidency as I read a “gag” Christmas president, a book titled “How to be President: What to Do and Where to Go Once You’re in Office,” by New York City writer Stephen P. Williams. This 122-page book told me everything I always wanted to know about the presidency, and more. It also told me what I already knew: The huge White House bureaucracy is out of control.
For example, I learned President Trump will enjoy some perks he doesn’t have at his luxurious Trump Tower in New York, including toothbrush cups bearing the presidential seal and a Commander-in-Chief bathrobe. He’ll also enjoy round-the-clock personal valet services including nightly bedspread turndown service and unlimited mints and hard and/or soft candy.
On more serious matters, President Trump will travel on Air Force One, a Boeing 747 he has already criticized as “too expensive.” Perhaps that’s because it’s a flying White House command center complete with an executive suite and stateroom, separate bedrooms and sleeping areas for guests, and two galleys capable of serving 100 meals at a sitting, not to mention built-in antimissile devices. And if he feels like it, the president can sit in the cockpit on takeoffs and landings.
“How to Be President” tells us when the president travels by car he typically is part of a 27-car motorcade, each of which may contain up to five people, resulting in a 135-person entourage even if he only wants to go to Georgetown for lunch. Obviously, this borders on security overkill, one of the most visible manifestations of our imperial presidency.
That’s why American taxpayers shelled out nearly $5 million every time the Obama family vacationed in Hawaii. Of course Trump can vacation at his own resorts around the world but he’ll still have to travel on Air Force One and in traffic-stopping motorcades once he’s on the ground. I experienced the imperial presidency when President Jimmy Carter visited Madrid, Spain, during his 1980 reelection campaign. The Carters arrived accompanied by a vast entourage of White House staffers and security personnel who drove Spaniards crazy with their strange and nearly impossible requests for special treatment.
For example, President and Mrs. Carter wanted to eat dinner with the king at 6 p.m., when most self-respecting Spaniards are finishing lunch, and they declined to stay in the elegant Ritz Hotel because it was “too fancy.” So the Carters stayed at the ambassador’s residence and the ambassador gladly moved into the Ritz. Different strokes for different folks.
Can you imagine what would happen if the president of Equatorial Guinea wanted to travel down Pennsylvania Avenue in a 27-car motorcade? He’d be laughed out of town. But the American president becomes accustomed to special treatment and deference from “ordinary Americans,” widely known in Washington as “deplorables.” Trump is used to being treated like royalty, but he won’t like the ever-present Secret Service protective detail he already managed to ditch in New York, thereby making the presidency somewhat less imperial. That’s a start.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.