Will the Supreme Court crown Trump king?

How a landmark decision could transform the presidency into a monarchical office

The Supreme Court.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in three cases touching on presidential immunity from congressional and grand jury investigations. If a majority of the justices side with the sweeping arguments made by Justice Department lawyers — and even more so if they are persuaded by the especially radical claims put forth by President Trump's personal attorneys — then the U.S. will have taken a big step toward elevating the presidency into a monarchical office. In this new world, the president would not only be, in effect, an elected king. He would also be a king with two bodies — more like the absolute rulers of pre-modern Europe than the head of one of three co-equal branches in a system of republican government.

The phrase "the king's two bodies" comes down to us from the political thought of the Middle Ages, and specifically from the work of the pioneering intellectual historian Ernst Kantorowicz. In his 1957 book on medieval political theology, Kantorowicz showed how thinkers in Christian Europe conceived of the political power exercised by kings. Inspired by the idea of an incarnational God and developing dualistic concepts inherited from various philosophical sources, a range of writers and artists pictured kings as having a physical, mortal body and then a second, symbolic or mystical "body politic" that endures in the monarchical office and is handed down from one corporal king to the next.

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Damon Linker

Damon Linker is a senior correspondent at TheWeek.com. He is also a former contributing editor at The New Republic and the author of The Theocons and The Religious Test.