Put Your Lightsabers Away: Trump Could Never Be Emperor
Donald Trump is a wart of a president, and a rather outwardly vile person. He’s said some awful things and threatened dangerous policies. He’s such a loud guy that a lot of people take him seriously. I suppose they should, considering what he wants. I’m here to tell you, though, that the chances of Trump becoming some sort of dictator are so low they're barely worth the thought. But I’ll give you my two cents on why we shouldn’t be worried.
Republics—especially the democratic kinds—are fragile things. Like igloos, they can be the most durable source of protection, but only if they are constructed carefully and correctly. There are countless of historical lessons to reinforce this truth, but I would prefer to use an example from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
The Galactic Republic of the Star Wars prequel trilogy was governed almost exclusively by the Galactic Senate, the unicameral legislature of thousands of planetary systems, each with their own representative delegation. At the head of this body was the Supreme Chancellor, who also served as chief executive. Immediately, we can see that the Senate is more of a parliament, with the executive intimately tied to the legislative. This should automatically sound the alarms; any government without concrete separation of powers is at danger of not only centralizing power but abusing it.
A Beautiful Divorce
The Constitutional Framers knew this when they set out to redesign the American government. As you may or may not know, our government is divided into three main parts: a legislative part, an executive part, and a judicial part. Each can be found in the First, second, and third articles of the Constitution, respectively. As your basic civics will remind you, this is called separation of powers. Its purpose is to prevent collusion between the branches The reason should be obvious enough. If the executive and legislative (the two branches most a threat) are too close to each other then it will become exceedingly more difficult to discern between enforcing laws and passing them. The two processes should be different primarily to ensure that if there is a bad law passed, the enforcement can be moderated; and if there is a bad executive, the legislature can redefine laws to make the executive complicit.
This is not what the Republic did. The Supreme Chancellor, as the chief executive, can dole out quite a few favors, namely, positions. In our government, nothing different. President Lincoln used the same tactic to get the 13th Amendment through Congress. Trump seems to have done the same by naming one of his key campaigners to the position of Attorney General. What differentiates the presidency from the chancellorship is that, as the Senate’s leader, the Chancellor also wields far more significant influence by determining what issues are given priority—that is, what things get talked about. That is, he sets the agenda.
If you as a senator have any hopes of gaining higher power, or achieving any legislative agenda, you must make friends with the Chancellor. Contrast with Congress. Trump can ask Congress to pass a health care bill, but they don't even have to discuss it. But let's say he got Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to have a debate on the matter. That doesn't necessarily mean Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will do the same. Trump would have to make a promise not only to get favorable votes, but he'd also have to make promises to get the bills even to the debate floor. Not so with the Chancellor, who can call a vote on whatever he deems necessary. The hurdles are far lower, and his influence over senators increases.
Granted, the Chancellor can be removed by a vote of no confidence, as seen in Episode I with Chancellor Valorum. But, an ambitious enough being would ensure no such vote was even considered, simply by making deals and friends early and quickly. Enter Sheev Palpatine, a man who not only made many friends fast but kept his friends. Obi Wan in Episode II pointed out how well Palpatine was at going with the whims of the individual senators, shoring up as many chits as he could. This kind of person is dangerous and can enact a whole host of policies at his own whim.** Now, look at Donald Trump, a man whose own party tried to stop his election. He doesn't make friends well, and his words are so nebulous that they aren't reliable.
Let's add another reason why Trump faces more obstacles than Palpatine: a robust and strong political party system. Parties typically thrive on the ability to unite local units of organization (who wield their own, independent power) behind common ideas and candidates. Parties flex their influence the most in the control of those candidates across the board. The United Kingdom does very well for this reason; even though the prime minister (the chief executive) and opposition leader more or less control their parties (and thus, fellow partisans in parliament), votes of confidences (basically, a political coup) can still be demanded by outside sources—like the local units of the party who can and have revolted against their leaders in the face of electoral disaster. Additionally, the competition between the parties makes it very difficult for any one side to completely dominate. Finally, parties that control nomination processes outside of the legislature can more greatly demand loyalty from their members, instead of some individual power-seeker who has little control over the nomination.
Trump had to fight through 15 other candidates before he even got the chance to run against the other party. And once he got there, he had to rely on others to assist his ascendancy. Now he's in the White House, with a Republican Senate and House. But, members of the House, namely the Freedom Caucus, of his own party are determined to keep Trump controlled. The Senate is barely held by the GOP, and Democrats are hungry to snatch the upper chamber away. Trump must always keep a close eye on future elections.
In the Galactic Senate, there appears to be no organized party system. The most we see in The Clone Wars TV series are informal caucuses. This leaves each individual Senator responsible really to only one source of power: their home planets. It’s not entirely clear how senators are chosen, whether elected or selected, but they somehow answer to their individual systems. This is just fine, except when you consider a couple of things. One, when you conduct your work on a Core World planet like Coruscant exceedingly far from your constituency, who probably cares very little what you do, you have a greater degree of flexibility in pursuing your own agenda and increasing your power. This divide between electors and the elected is a known pattern that happens in all political systems. Those who elect are too far removed from those who make decisions to keep representatives accountable. Second, and what makes the divide deadly, is when representatives have no political party to which they must answer. Parties are most certainly concerned with how their elected members vote and act and will do their best to keep you in line (usually with funding for campaigns).
So Don't Worry, Be Happy Now (or at least less anxious)
If the Chancellor and Senate were separate, it would have been far more difficult for the Chancellor to influence individual members. Without any institutional authority or power over them, he would be severely limited in his ability to manipulate the conduits of senatorial power. Add in parties and there would be little reason senators not of his own party to listen to him. His power to whip the Senate into war, or continued war, or the Jedi Purge, or imperialism would be reduced.
This matters to us because we’ve seen it before, and the Constitution’s Framers saw it. Power corrupts, and so keeping power separate keeps institutions corrupted separately. We might see Congress as corrupt, and the president as corrupt, but they are corrupted in two very different ways, and in ways that actually pit one against the other. The political parties may be dismally similar, but they have vested interests against one another. This factional and institutional fighting actually preserves liberty, even if it makes everything a giant headache. Some headaches wear too big of ties and obnoxious red hats. But that’s all they are. Trump doesn’t have the opportunity to corrupt the government to his vision like Palpatine did because they exist in two entirely different systems of politics and institutions.
The courts are proving to be exceptional in their ability to thwart the president. Despite the Republican-dominated Congress, Democrats are doing well to throw things in a bind and make local GOPs around the country sweat in special elections (despite GOP wins). Even some Republicans (prominent and not alike) are willing, even forced, to be firm against Trump. Palpatine faced no opposition from any branch of government because, as he put it so well, he was the Senate. He was the political party, the government, the essence of politics. Trump? Pfft. He’s just a moderately successful businessman who can’t spell his tweets correctly. Political parties and separation of powers bring about the obstruction of abusive government and the prevention of tyrannical despots. Warts they bring with them just look really bad.
**Let us ignore the fact that Palpatine was also the most powerful Sith Lord known in a millennium controlling the Separatist Alliance and ensuring galactic civil war. Palpatine’s role as Darth Sidious was the catalyst for a constitutional crisis, but it was not the overwhelming force we think it was. Darth Sidious merely provided the opportunity for a man like Palpatine to dominate and abuse power. It is entirely possible to find someone of the same caliber and ambition as Palpatine, and an enemy as determined as Sidious, and see that when the former finds an enemy like the latter, the former will have ample room to bring about his own personal agenda because of the latter. We can see that in our own history, how crisis and war have been the reason for increased power in a single entity (see: Depression, World War II).