The Presidency Means Perpetual War

Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan

Tens of thousands of people are expected to spend Monday’s federal holiday joining rallies in cities across the U.S. to protest President Donald Trump. “Not My Presidents’ Day” protests to oppose various policies of the new administration are scheduled in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and more than a dozen other cities. Organizers have cited abortion rights, immigration policy, racism, sexism, and the administration’s combative relationship with journalists among the many reasons to rally against Trump exactly one month since he was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States.

“We do not accept Donald Trump as our president because he does not represent us,” said Nova Calise, a protest organizer in New York. She voices a frustration echoed by countless protesters who have been reinvigorated to engage in political activism since Trump’s election last November.

However, these protests are against the president, not the presidency.


Massive demonstrations have dubious results, varying from World War I to the present. Neglecting to participate might be rational, considering past effectiveness.

Skipping the festivities does not mean that one is satisfied with the Trump administration. Far from it. In fact, there are a myriad of substantive disagreements to have with Trump and the presidency’s contempt for individual liberty, which is precisely the point.

I will not join Chicagoans to protest at Trump Tower because I’m against the presidency, not just the president.

Opposing the presidency itself, regardless of the occupant of the White House, clarifies the problem. No president represents you, nor I, and no one should take comfort in the notion that all would be fine today if only the election results last year had differed and someone else sat upon the throne of the American Empire. Those on the receiving end of U.S. bombs don’t care if Democrats or Republicans are giving the orders, and neither should you.

The Imperial Presidency

Trump ordered a raid on a house in Yemen shortly after taking office, but the people of Yakla fought back, resulting in gunfights and airstrikes that killed dozens and nearly obliterated the village. Hillary Clinton might not have okayed this specific mission as president, but her record strongly indicates that she would have continued to work alongside Saudi Arabia to wage war against the people of Yemen, not to mention all of the other countries the U.S. government is currently at war with.

Clinton’s presidency would not have elicited these protests, just as widespread demonstrations against Obama were lacking during his administration. The cult of the presidency has distorted American politics for decades, if not centuries. Don’t be fooled into believing the public has suddenly become more principled. This is all politics. Disaffected liberals are not championing a noninterventionist position in the age of Trump, even though they should. And those libertarians and conservatives who believe Trump is on the verge of dismantling the Empire or striving for that goal, are gravely mistaken.

#TheResistance is in large part fueled by disgruntled Democrats and liberals, but their coalition also includes neoconservatives tightly connected to the past few decades of militaristic U.S. foreign policy, including such luminaries as Bill Kristol and David Frum. #TheResistance has been driven into a frenzy since last November by what the former faction contends was a failure of democracy and the latter considers to be a vulgar anomaly in the political discourse.

But they are both wrong. The loss of Clinton to Trump isn’t the tragic failure they make it out to be. Trump’s election is the culmination of the American Empire, perfectly cast in all its belligerent ostentatiousness.

Against the War Party

Trump is just a far-right version of Clinton, but even that is irrelevant. Whether the military is commanded by a liberal or conservative president matters very little when the focus of either is a worldwide garrison. The problem we face is the office of the presidency itself and the U.S. government’s commitment to militarism. Our problem is the War Party, which has no other ideological commitments.

Dan Sanchez, Managing Editor of the Foundation for Economic Education, offered good advice when he wrote, “Stop looking to Commanders-in-Chief and other officers of the imperium to be the deliverers of peace. They have always let us down, and they always will.”

This is especially true for those who have suspended their skepticism of government power in the hope that Trump would rollback the state’s commitment to perpetual war. Overlooking the last month of militarism will only lead to further death and destruction in the coming months and years.

To those in the streets, enjoy your “Not My Presidents’ Day” tantrum. The outrage directed toward the presidency itself must be broader, yet focused. Most importantly, if opposition to the Trump presidency is genuine, then protesters will prioritize striking at the root of the power of the presidency – war – rather than sulking over who gets to drop the bombs.

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan


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