Politics & Policy

Queen Kamala’s Imperial Aspirations

Senator Kamala Harris laughs during a forum at the annual NAACP convention in Detroit, Mich., July 24, 2019. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)
Restoring the presidency to its proper constitutional role is the only way to ensure that such megalomaniacs don’t come so close to occupying it.

Kamala Harris does not want to be the president of the United States. She wants to be the queen of the post-constitutional remnants of what used to be the United States. On first reading, this might seem like a hysterical and overblown claim, but it’s actually quite easy to support. All one has to do is read the description of the president’s duties in Article II of the Constitution and compare it with anything and everything Harris has ever said she would do if she found herself occupying the post; the two simply do not match up. In fact, judging by her own words and deeds, she would be much more suited to life as a 17th-century European monarch. Her real ideological allies are neither Bernie bros nor Biden boosters. They’re the Stuart kings of England — that loathsome dynasty that ruled over the Western-most isles of the Old World during the 1600s. Harris’s utter disdain for legislative checks on executive power and her autocratic disposition toward the machinery of the state make her and these long-dead white men birds of a feather when it comes to statecraft. 332 years after the Glorious Revolution, she is on a one-woman mission to Make Tyranny Great Again.

During a CNN town hall in April of last year, the prospective Democratic v.p. had the following to say about her attitude toward Congress, the supreme Article I branch of the Federal government:

Upon being elected, I will give the United States Congress a hundred days to get their act together and have the courage to pass reasonable gun-safety laws. If they fail to do it, then I will take executive action.

When Joe Biden pointed out to his future running mate that American presidents don’t have the authority to do anything like this, Harris responded by laughing the Constitution of the United States off in the style of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. “Hey, Joe,” she shot back, “Instead of saying no we can’t, let’s say yes we can!”

Charles II was a big believer in “yes we can,” when “we” was used in the royal sense. The Militia Act of 1662 gave him the authority to disarm “persons dangerous to the peace of the kingdom.” Charles’s heir, James II, availed himself of this authority often to disarm potential enemies of his rule, particularly after a rebellion was raised against him when he ascended the throne in 1685. When James was deposed during the course of the Glorious Revolution, the English Parliament drew up a Declaration of Right that enshrined “the right to bear arms.” A century later, this language was lifted verbatim by James Madison and written into the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Harris’s propensity for gun-grabbing alone would make her a worthy latter-day heir of the Stuarts. But her threats at the town hall were only indirectly aimed at law-abiding gun-owners; Congress was her primary target. In this respect she resembles James II’s grandfather, James I. During a meeting with the Spanish ambassador in 1614, the latter expressed a similar exasperation at the legislature’s unwillingness to do his bidding:

The House of Commons is a body without a head. The members give their opinion in a disorderly manner; at their meetings nothing is heard but cries, shouts and confusion. I am surprised that my ancestors should have permitted such a body to come into existence.

Replace “The House of Commons” with “The Article I Branch” and “my ancestors” with “the Founders” and Harris’s views appear to be indistinguishable from the king’s.

In matters of taxation and public spending, Harris is a woman after Charles I’s own heart; the two share a passion for eminent domain, of all things. Under Charles’s reign, landowners were fined for all encroachments made by their ancestors into royal forests since the reign of Richard I, more than four centuries earlier. This allowed the king to make use of land that had long since passed into private hands for his own purposes. Last year, Harris announced a $100 billion housing plan that would do something similar, albeit to less medieval ends and in a more sophisticated way. The plan is essentially a policy love child of eminent domain and affirmative action. It aims to close the gap in household wealth between white and nonwhite Americans by providing up to 4 million households with $25,000 toward the down payment on a home. By design, it would unilaterally alter the racial composition of various areas of the country using the public purse. Needless to say, more minority homeowners would be an unqualified boon to the country, but this is just about the most authoritarian and economically disastrous means of pursuing that goal: a return to the sort of policy scheme that helped cause the great recession of 2007–09.

In his book Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking People Made the Modern World, Daniel Hannan observes that the conflict between the Stuarts and their subjects “turned on three great issues: money, religion, and power.” We’ve discussed the first and the last of these issues, but surely there can be no tenable comparison drawn between Kamala Harris and the Stuart dynasty as far as religion is concerned? The Stuart kings were, after all, either Catholics themselves or sympathetic toward their Catholic subjects, while Harris’s anti-Catholic bigotry has been well-documented by my colleague Alexandra DeSanctis. But there are, in fact, worrying parallels between Harris and her ideological ancestors in this area, too, and they are neither spurious nor superficial. On the contrary, they testify to a ruthless pursuit of personal advantage that holds even the most sacred aspects of human life in contempt.

In 1670, Charles II negotiated a secret treaty with Louis XIV of France. As part of that treaty, Charles agreed to make a public confession of Catholicism in exchange for 2 million crowns, a promise he eventually kept on his deathbed. This crude and self-interested transaction with the institutional Catholic hierarchy, which was anxious at that time for Protestant Britain to return to the Roman fold, has its own sinister parallel in the public life of Senator Harris.

As a young prosecutor, Harris specialized in dealing with sex crimes and child abuse. She made much of this specialty in campaign literature during her dubious ascent up the greasy pole of California politics. But as a report in The Intercept outlines, survivors of clerical sex abuse in San Francisco have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that Harris refused to take action against Catholic priests accused of sexual assault during her tenure as the city’s district attorney. The Church was one of the city’s most powerful political institutions when she took office in 2004, and many survivors were left with the impression that the ambitious young D.A. was wary of incurring its political wrath. Harris’s predecessor as district attorney, Terence Hallinan, had aggressively pursued allegations of sexual assault made against local priests, prosecuting cases from years earlier that had only just come to light and undertaking a large-scale probe into the widespread sexual misconduct of clergymen. Six months before Harris was elected to succeed him, a Supreme Court decision nullified a California state law that had eliminated the statute of limitations on child-molestation charges. The focus was then shifted by victims to civil cases and to a broader attempt at publicly shaming predators who had been protected by the Church. Harris didn’t actively assist in any of those cases and turned down repeated requests by the survivors’ lawyers to access the personnel files assembled by her predecessor. Doing dirty informal deals with the Catholic Church to get ahead turns out to be yet another trait that Harris and the Stuarts have in common.

The natural conclusion many will draw from this litany of political horrors is that we are once again facing a “Flight 93 election” — that Donald Trump is all that stands between us and the abyss. This, I submit, is incorrect. If you pick up any decent history of the Glorious Revolution, you will find that the conflict preceding its events wasn’t primarily between James II and another claimant to the throne; it was between the king and Parliament. The Glorious Revolution was a battle between the legislative and the executive branches of government, with the House of Commons effectively electing a king in William III who would leave legislators alone to govern. The practical lesson Americans should take from this is that we need to care about congressional supremacy a lot more than we currently do.

As long as the political engagement of Americans is limited to voting in a presidential election, they will not be citizens in the true sense but courtiers and kingmakers, desperately striving to have some say in which man or woman they are ruled by instead of ruling themselves. We have already strayed dangerously far in this direction by turning the presidency into the kind of office that would appeal to someone such as Harris in the first place. According to all the great traditions of Anglophone liberty, Americans should go to the polls knowing that the most important choice they have to make is who will represent them in the House, followed by who will represent them in the Senate, and, last of all, who will preside over the federal government and execute the laws that Congress passes. At the moment, these priorities are completely inverted. Who gets your vote for president this year matters a lot less than anything and everything you can do to restore the proper Tocquevillian order of American liberty, in which local allegiances matter most.

There are many reasons that this order has been upended, and the biggest among them is Congress’s collective-action problem. Conservatives can often be quite difficult to engage on the subject of congressional gridlock. Whenever one mentions it to folks on the right, the response is often “gridlock is what the Founders intended,” or “building consensus is supposed to be difficult.” There is an element of truth to this, of course. The Constitution is, as Greg Weiner calls it, Madison’s metronome, built to keep stable republican self-government ticking along at a sustainable pace. But the fact remains that we have made legislating far more difficult than even Madison intended. He was the first to keep a roll of representatives, making it easier for him to cut deals with them as needed. Alexander Hamilton believed pork-barrel spending to be indispensable to effective statecraft. The bottom line is that there is too much transparency in Congress now for deals to be done. Faced with this level of sclerosis in the body politic, impatient voters turn to the branches of government that can provide outcomes efficiently when they act on their own: the executive and the judiciary. Restoring Congress’s ability to give effect to the will of the electorate will likely mean repealing many of the transparency and anti-corruption reforms that it has undergone in recent decades. An Article I branch with earmarks, pork, and Senate hearings in which no cameras are permitted would be far more likely to deliver for voters and thus weaken the imperial presidency.

I’m aware that such proposals are unlikely to inspire many. No politician will ever be greeted at a rally by a stadium full of voters chanting, “SMOKE FILLED ROOMS! SMOKE FILLED ROOMS!” But shifting our concern as a nation toward the rehabilitation of Congress is the best way to guard against neo-Stuartist presidential aspirants such as Harris in the long term. The best result we could possibly hope for in this year’s presidential election is one in which so many Americans have refused to vote at the top of the ticket that whoever wins is forced to follow Congress’s lead, rather than the other way around. Though this is, of course, never going to happen, someone should still point out that it would be best for the country, both because it would and because neither of the party nominees is fit to run a village post office, never mind the world’s most storied republic.

So whatever your political persuasion, the best thing you can possibly do this year is to phone up your senators and your representative, preferably at least once a week, and instruct them that no matter which party holds the White House, they must grow a backbone and stop acting like a craven lickspittle of the executive branch. This country is only going to function properly if we start to care a little bit less about the parties and a lot more about the branches of government. The only sure way to avoid handing executive power to megalomaniacs such as Kamala Harris in the future is to shrink the presidency so drastically that holding it no longer appeals to them.

Donald Trump, I’m afraid, is the last person on earth who would be enthusiastic about that project. He himself has been guilty during his term of many of the imperial abuses outlined above, including an irresponsible affection for eminent domain. The Republican Party’s transformation into a cult of personality over the last four years is evidence enough that it cannot save us from kings and queens, and doesn’t really want to. Only Congress can do that, and only we can save Congress. When evaluating congressional candidates in your district this fall, ask them if their commitment to the independence of the legislature outstrips their commitment to defeating or reelecting Donald Trump. If they can’t answer in the affirmative, they don’t deserve your vote.

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