Donald Trump shouldn't be president. He should be king.
Well, let me qualify that. First, I'd rather Trump have no position of public influence or state authority. Second, I oppose everything about inherited power. And third, I don't mean "king" so much as "head of state," a role which can take many forms (monarchy included) that are at once very shiny and entirely impotent.
In the United States, we have combined head of state and head of government in a single role: the presidency. But they are not the same thing, and such a combination is not universal.
The head of state is a largely symbolic office which represents, in the words of former French President Charles de Gaulle, l'esprit de la nation — "the spirit of the country." A head of state gives speeches and hosts fancy dinners, presents medals to noteworthy people and visits the troops. A head of state decorates a big mansion for Christmas, pardons turkeys, and throws an Easter Egg hunt for kids. This is a job for a personality, someone who by birth or election comes to represent the nation at a cultural level. The core of the job is generating feelings among the populace.
The head of government is the person who actually works, the brain to the head of state's heart. Sometimes a president but often a prime minister, the head of government is the one tasked with serving as the top administrator of the day-to-day work of governance. This is the person concerned with legislation and its implementation, with setting policy and dealing with other foreign leaders in a substantive sense.
The United Kingdom, for example, has Queen Elizabeth II as its hereditary head of state and the prime minister, presently Theresa May, as its head of government. Elizabeth's face is on the money, and she and the rest of the royal family stay busy throwing state dinners, christening ships, cutting ribbons, going to charity events, and so on. She is a living symbol of national unity inside the U.K. and out. And though she legally wields some executive power per the national constitution, in practice the British monarchy functions as a rubberstamp for the elected government. No royal veto has been issued in more than three centuries.
I used to think maintaining separate heads of state and government would be unnecessary duplication. Like any good libertarian, I saw the smaller option as the better option. As Oscar from The Office sarcastically says when Jim and Michael are made co-managers, "It doesn't take a genius to know that any organization thrives when it has two leaders. Go ahead, name a country that doesn't have two presidents. A boat that sets sail without two captains. Where would Catholicism be without the popes?" Why have two officials — with all the attendant bureaucracy and expense — when you can have just one? Surely the wisdom of our American efficiency was evident.
But the longer this administration continues, the more I see the merit of a figurehead role for head of state — a powerless position that can do all the feelings stuff without interfering with governance.
This is clearly what Trump himself would prefer. He is known to maintain a historically light daily schedule, zealously guarding his "executive time" for watching television and posting inflammatory tweets. (This, much like congressional gridlock, is really not so bad: As Paul Waldman once noted for The Week, if Trump doesn't do much, "the chances of him destroying the world are greatly reduced.")
Trump has expressed surprise at the complexities of workaday governance — "Nobody knew health care could be so complicated!" — and he clearly prefers the thrill of the campaign rally to being "boring" and presidential. Trump seems happiest when engaged in head of state activities, as when he was visibly overjoyed to pretend to drive a truck on the White House lawn. He likes golfing and making phone calls to important people and basking in the adulation of crowds who feel the feelings he wants them to feel. This is all head of state stuff.
And the most intriguing possibility here is that Trump's supporters would also be satisfied with their man as head of state. They have stuck with him despite few major administrative accomplishments — the wall is unbuilt; ObamaCare is basically intact; Hillary Clinton is not in jail; the swamp is not drained — because he's excellent at fulfilling the head of state role to their taste. As a head of state with no actual authority to affect policy, Trump could still do everything that generates the greatest enthusiasm among his fans.
A powerless King Trump could tweet his inanities and hold his rallies. He could rant about closing the border permanently to the delight of his supporters while the rest of us rejoice that Prime Minister Actual Adult is aware such a thing is not constitutionally permissible, let alone advisable. As an impotent head of state, Trump could still help his die-hard followers feel all the feelings they so enjoy — he could still be their national id, giving vent to their cruelty — without doing any concrete political harm.
Trump as king isn't an ideal scenario, obviously. But it'd take him down a peg from the terrifying level of power he presently holds.