When the body politic trusts one person, whether elected through democratic means or otherwise, with life and death decisions over thousands, if not millions, they put all at risk. Mankind once again is enabling single individuals, with bad motives or bad judgment, to determine our fate.
During the 20th century, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and others were responsible for individually killing millions and collectively hundreds of millions. Organizations like the U.N. were set up in an attempt to mitigate the risk of the horrors of the 20th century being repeated.
Up to six months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin was considered by most as a bad guy, but whose blood lust was contained to perhaps a few thousands of his own people. The world establishment disapproved of some of his behaviors, but not to the extent where he would no longer be invited to drink and dine with them in the most fashionable places. The “special military operation” in Ukraine finally revealed the real Mr. Putin for the whole world to see. The videos and testimonials of Mr. Putin’s forces deliberately targeting and killing innocent civilian women and children caused even his more ardent defenders to flee in disgust.
Again, Mr. Putin had been viewed by the Westerners as a very smart and rational fellow, but who cared little about his fellow humans. As a result of the Ukraine fiasco, Mr. Putin is no longer viewed as being so smart or rational, but instead delusional — about the capabilities of his own military and of the Ukrainian military, and the response of NATO and the West to his aggression.
There have been many comments in the press about the state of Mr. Putin’s mental health, most of them speculative. But these unknowns, combined with his delusions and casual talk about using nuclear weapons, make him extraordinarily dangerous.
President Joe Biden has also been exhibiting many dangerous delusions. Not that he would deliberately kill millions of people, but his mistakes, misconceptions and outright delusions might inadvertently result in the deaths of many innocents. Only those in reality denial can claim that Mr. Biden is now dealing with a full deck at all times. His confusion about both important and unimportant matters, at times, is too plain for all to see.
If Mr. Putin does resort to nuclear (or biological or chemical) weapons, how will Mr. Biden respond? None of us know — including Mr. Putin, who, given his track record, may well misjudge what Mr. Biden will do.
Mr. Biden has done many things to reduce oil and gas supply, including areas open to exploration or development, construction of pipelines and other necessary infrastructure, costly new regulations, and so forth. Yet, he and his administration officials deny (making them look delusional) that the forced reduction in supply has anything to do with the massive price increases. Every reasonably learned person understands the law of supply and demand. Reduce supply and prices will increase.
Higher energy prices make almost everything more expensive, particularly food. Higher food prices will increase global malnutrition, causing unnecessary infant deaths. These excess deaths are not as visual as Mr. Putin’s bombs and rockets, but the effect is the same.
The American Founding Fathers were well aware of the excess of power problem, which they tried to solve through the requirement of frequent elections and the presidential impeachment provisions, combined with strict limitations on the powers of the executive branch (which have been greatly eroded by the Congress and the courts). The vice president was supposed to be the backup, but they did not anticipate a situation where the president might well be impaired and where the VP is likely not up to the job.
The Swiss have been successful in coping with the problem, by a strict adherence to local government control, with very few powers in the central government (run by a very small rotating collective — representing the various political factions). The Swiss developed their unique form of democracy after over 800 years of experimentation, so it is no surprise they are ahead of the rest of the world.
The British have also largely solved the problem, again after 800 years of experimentation. The Swiss system could be adopted by other countries, not so the British system, which is uniquely British. They are a kingdom — the United Kingdom — with a queen as their sovereign. The British are also a parliamentary democracy — with no written Constitution — but an upper chamber, “The House of Lords.”
The prime minister has a term, but can be thrown out at any time by Parliament — so real abuse of power is rare. The monarchy and the House of Lords have theoretical powers but little real power other than “moral suasion,” which is considerable. The system is very flexible, enabling the appointment of a controversial but very able prime minister with great power during an emergency — Sir Winston Churchill in WWII — and then throwing him immediately out of office once the war has been won — a mistake corrected a decade later.
In the long run, to rely on the wise and rational behavior of any one individual as a national leader is suicidal. The Swiss and British have shown the world that it is possible to have a functioning government while effectively limiting the power of any one individual. Putting the executive branch back in the box, as originally envisioned by the American Founders, would go a long way in solving U.S. presidential power abuses.
• Richard W. Rahn is chair of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and MCon LLC.