If a New York Times report is to be believed, Donald Trump doesn’t want to do the hard work of actually being president.
According to an anonymous adviser to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Trump offered Kasich the opportunity to be the most powerful vice president in history, with authority over domestic and foreign policy. What did that leave for Trump to do? "Make America great again."
Evidently, Trump is interested in the prestige and public attention that comes with the presidency. But he doesn’t want to spend a lot of time worrying about niggling policy issues like Brexit or corporate tax reform.
While the idea of a president with no power sounds crazy to American ears, it’s actually how a lot of advanced democracies work around the world. Many countries have a ceremonial figurehead — either an elected president or a hereditary monarch — who represents the nation at state dinners and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. And they also have a head of government, usually the prime minister, who makes all the important policy decisions.
In the United States, we’ve combined these roles into a single person, and it hasn’t been working very well. It’s made the presidency an impossibly demanding job, while giving our head of government a degree of prestige that makes it harder to hold him accountable for his policy mistakes.
So here’s a modest proposal: Let’s make Donald Trump king of the United States. This seems to be the job he actually wants. And replacing America’s powerful elected president with a powerless hereditary monarchy would improve the American political system.
A powerful presidency is a bad idea
In parliamentary democracies, the prime minister is the head of government and can lose her office any time she loses the confidence of the parliament. That creates the need for a nonpartisan head of state to manage transitions between governments. Some countries do this with an elected president who typically has far less authority than America’s president. Others have a constitutional monarch who plays this role.
In contrast, the United States divides power between a strong president and a strong Congress. As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias has written, presidential systems like ours don’t have a great track record. Most Latin American countries that copied the US Constitution saw their governments destroyed by constitutional crises after an elected president and an elected Congress couldn’t resolve disagreements. Honduras, for example, has an American-style system with both an elected president and an elected Congress. And a conflict between them led to a coup in 2009.
The problems with a powerful president have become more and more evident as American politics has become more polarized. Since Republicans took office in 2010, Congress has gotten hardly anything done because it was impossible to find big policy ideas that President Obama and congressional Republicans could agree on.
Things have gotten so bad that a Supreme Court seat is likely to sit vacant for more than a year, simply because Senate Republicans are determined not to let a Democratic president choose a successor for Justice Antonin Scalia.
All of which is to say that Donald Trump’s idea of a figurehead presidency that delegates policy decisions to others is a great idea. But even better than delegating to the vice president would be to delegate to House Speaker Paul Ryan (or whoever is elected speaker in 2017). Having the leader of Congress also be the head of government would make it a lot easier for America's elected leaders to actually make decisions.
America needs a tacky orange monarch
Should America have a weak president like Italy or a constitutional monarch like Great Britain? As Vox’s Dylan Matthews has argued, the key advantage of a constitutional monarch is that he or she has absolutely no democratic legitimacy. An elected president is always going to be tempted to meddle in politics, no matter how much the Constitution formally limits his role.
But there’s zero danger of a hereditary monarch like Queen Elizabeth doing this. She knows that the public is only going to support her continued reign if she remains strictly neutral in political fights. In short, it’s precisely a monarch’s lack of democratic legitimacy that makes monarchy a better model than a weak presidency.
If Trump merely became a figurehead president for four or eight years, there’s a danger that his successor would try to once again exercise real authority. Which is why the smarter play would be to make Trump’s vision of a powerless presidency permanent: Abolish the presidency and turn President Trump into King Donald.
King Donald would rule for life, but he’d have few of the powers of the current presidency. He wouldn’t have the power to veto legislation or appoint judges, ambassadors, or members of the Cabinet. He wouldn’t command the military or negotiate treaties. Congress might retain the power to impeach him, but with the king having a largely symbolic role there’d be no reason to use it.
In a lot of ways, Trump has been preparing to be America’s monarch all his life. His gold-encrusted Manhattan penthouse seems tacky now. But it — as well as with his winter palace in Palm Beach, Florida — are appropriate residences for America’s reigning monarch.
The role of a monarch is to preside over important occasions and accept the adoration of the public without doing any real work. No one’s personality is better suited to this role than Donald Trump's.
Trump’s biggest weakness as a candidate for king is the divisive rhetoric he has spewed on the campaign trail. Obviously, it would be important for America’s monarch to represent all Americans, not just white men. But there’s reason to believe that this is mostly opportunistic. Trump amped up his divisive campaign rhetoric because he thought it would help him on the campaign trail. But ultimately, he cares only about himself — and once he has secured a lifetime role as America’s figurehead, he’d have little reason to stoke racial animosity.
To be sure, Trump would still be a somewhat buffoonish monarch. But that’s actually an argument in favor of choosing Trump as America’s king. Having America’s monarch seen as a slightly daft, slightly racist uncle provides extra insurance against the monarch ever trying to seize real power.
The Trumps would make a good royal family
Donald Trump is 70 years old, which means he’d be the oldest president in American history. It also means that if he became king of America, he wouldn’t reign for very long. Which makes the line of succession of particular importance.
Donald’s oldest child, Donald Jr., would do a fine job as America’s second king. He’s handsome and charismatic and gave a well-received speech to the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night. And he has five children of his own, ensuring a plenty of heirs to take the throne after him.
Trump’s other children are already tabloid celebrities in their own right, an important role for any royal family. Trump’s adult children, Ivanka, Eric, and Tiffany, are all stars on Instagram and Twitter and seem like they’d enjoy being America’s first princes and princesses.