Contemplating the spectacle of President Trump, whom he describes as "the alpha male as crybaby," George Will consoles himself with the thought that Trump's follies will do the nation good. His difficulties with Congress should inspire the legislative branch to be more assertive, since it "cannot continue deferring to executive policymaking." His more embarrassing episodes, Will hopes, will do "invaluable damage to Americans’ infantilizing assumption that the presidency magically envelops its occupant with a nimbus of seriousness." By appearing to degrade the presidency, Trump "drains this office of the sacerdotal pomposities that have encrusted it."By this standard, "worse is better," on the assumption that the Trump administration will end any unhealthy desire Americans have for strong executive power while teaching them greater appreciation of the more deliberative, and thus more conservative, branches of government.
I suspect that Will misreads the temper of the time. Ambitious presidents around the world, from Nicolas Maduro to Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Vladimir Putin, often seem boorish and embarrassing to sophisticated critics, yet retain large followings despite numerous foul-ups. The desire for strong executive (or "authoritarian") leadership will not go away after one or more executives prove themselves fools, because that desire is driven more by persistent conditions than by any temporary faith in transient personalities. If Trump fails, it will only prove that Trump was the wrong guy. For that matter, in the eyes of his voting base, his feuds with veteran Republican leaders, most recently his Attorney General (a former U.S. Senator) and his lately ousted chief of staff (the former RNC chairman) probably aren't failures. All of us are witnessing a slow-motion showdown that will determine whether the Republican party is to be the President's instrument or his nemesis." Constitutionally, of course, the Republican party owes the President nothing; the chief executive isn't even really the de facto leader of the party, though his fans may assume he should be. While he can deal roughly with Republicans who answer directly to him after taking jobs in his Cabinet, he can't fire the party hierarchy and can only attempt to fire congressmen by recruiting candidates to run primaries against them next year. That's just as things should be for conservatives like Will, but Trump's voters more likely assumed, when they voted Republican for Congress, that people on the same ticket should be working on the same agenda. Their more dangerous assumption, in Will's judgment, is that the President is the one to set the agenda and the one to whom Republicans should be accountable when they go against it. I can't feel very sorry for them or Trump in their disappointment so far, since this is exactly what they deserve for taking the shortcut of "taking over" one of the established major parties rather than building their own party. But my lack of sympathy makes their desire for a more decisive executive no less real, and the divide between the expectations of ostensibly conservative voters and the ideology of the ostensibly conservative party no less profound.
For better or worse, we have to assume that voters chose Trump in the crucial states because they wanted him to practice his particular leadership style (as seen on TV) in Washington. In other words, Trump's voters probably want him to fire more people, yet he has little power to do so immediately outside his own executive-branch territory. His inability to fire top Republicans, in Congress or the party hierarchy, exposes what some may see as a flaw in American government, if not in the Constitution itself, that may not have been apparent earlier. Just the other day, so to speak, most right wingers believed that the problem with Congress was that it had no term limits for members, no maximum time in office. For the Trump movement, the real problem emerging now may be that congressmen have a minimum time in office, two years in which they are not really accountable to their constituents until the next Election Day. Ever since the first congressmen effectively shot down the idea that they should be subject to instruction from their constituents, their lack of political accountability between elections has been held sacred, the proof of their deliberative independence, their entitlement to legislate as they alone saw fit. But just as the original populists of more than a century ago included the recall of elected officials in their long-term reform agenda, so the so-called populists of the 21st century might adopt that idea -- if they remember how Arnold Schwarzenegger ended up governing a state -- as an appropriate measure for a time of more instant accountability in every other sphere of life. That may seem unlikely to you, but how much less likely is it than George Will's expectation that we'll simply give up electing Trumps, when Americans are probably only getting started?