The Corner

White House

Properly Executive

The inauguration of a president, with all its trappings of solemn investiture, always has the feel of hallowed ritual. But our rituals should rebuke our excesses as much as they restore our hope.

It is right that the ceremony should happen at the Capitol, which is the proper center of our national politics, and which was so recently assaulted by a reckless mob intent on civic ruin. But it would be right, too, if as he launches his new term in office, our president would remember these words of James Madison in 1793:

The natural province of the executive magistrate is to execute laws, as that of the legislature is to make laws. All his acts therefore, properly executive, must presuppose the existence of the laws to be executed.

These words stand as a bitter rebuke of every modern president. We should hope, but would be naïve to expect, that they might serve as a guide for the next one. And we should work to help them serve as guides for Congress — which is a more achievable if still just now barely imaginable goal.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.


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