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6 March 2014updated 11 Sep 2021 6:11pm

Letter of the week: The all-powerful president

By New Statesman

Your leader on Donald Trump’s America (12 Janaury) made the common mistake of portraying the US constitution as designed to constrain the executive.

The constitution of 1787 was, in fact, an exercise in strengthening the executive after the failure of the painfully weak government in the United States’ first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. Key founding fathers (Adams, Hamilton, Wilson) believed in the need to rebalance the constitution to restore the executive’s ancient prerogatives (the pardon, veto, commander-in-chief, etc). When it came to writing the constitution of 1787, the founding fathers vested in the president far more power than any British monarch had wielded in nearly a century.

Richard Johnson

Lecturer in US politics, Lancaster University

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State of nature

Having read and written much about gender, I was surprised to read in Jem Coulson’s letter (Correspondence, 5 January) that “it is plain to anyone who watches David Attenborough’s wildlife programmes or simply observes animal/human behaviour generally that the vast majority of it is inherited”. I wonder which aspects of humans’ many and varied manifestations of sexually dimorphic behaviour he thinks are inherited: the Victorian middle-class “angel of the hearth”, or suffragettism; the Amish habit of men never shaving, or the high-maintenance young men of Geordie Shore.

Perhaps, when he has worked out which behaviour is the “true” one, he could set about putting the rest of us into what he has determined to be a state of nature. The extraordinary variance of human behaviour might better serve as evidence that there is no nature without nurture. While every society has enforced its own vision of “natural” masculine and feminine behaviour, those visions have never been identical, and would sit very strangely in another time and place. The only constant is that these archetypes have all had the effect of giving men more power, and women less.

Sarah Ditum
Via email

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Past mistakes

How refreshing to read Jeremy Gilbert’s “How the Bennites took revenge” (Observations, 12 January). His contention that “the traditional Labour right has been obsessively Atlanticist since the aftermath of the Second World War” has to be applauded, as well as his claim that the British political class in recent decades has been “craven in its deference to the Daily Mail and the Murdoch press”. I believe we would have avoided the catastrophic Iraq War with a little less craven deference to an American president in 2003, and with absolutely no need for lies in parliament.

Ronnie Lewis
Crymych, Pembrokeshire

Unstable genius

The truth about Caligula isn’t necessarily that he was mad at all, as Helen Lewis wrote (Out of the Ordinary, 12 January). And he didn’t make his horse a senator. “It was said that he planned to make his horse a consul” is as far as Suetonius goes, and he wrote almost a century later. Yet Caligula does present us with a much more interesting analogy to Donald Trump. As the third Roman emperor, Caligula was devoid of the military and political experience that Augustus and Tiberius, his two predecessors, enjoyed and which gave them their authority.

Desperate to equal or exceed them, he flaunted his descent from Augustus, his only qualification, and eventually resorted to depicting himself as a god. When Trump declared himself to be a genius recently, he was unwittingly going down the same road as Caligula. Lacking any authority earned in the political or military world, he has floundered around trying to find ways to assert, demonstrate and prove his pre-eminence, confusing his electoral luck with evidence of his divine brilliance. 

The crucial moment is when Trump starts, or started, to believe in his own divinity. It can of course only end in tears. Eventually the supporters and voters will drift away, leaving him marooned. He’ll be better off than Caligula. Cassius Dio, a later Roman historian, observed that when Caligula was assassinated he discovered “by actual experience that he was not a god”.

Guy de la Bédoyère
Grantham, Lincolnshire

Young at heart

I can confirm Peter Wilby’s observation (First Thoughts, 12 January) that old age creeps up unnoticed from my reaction on being offered a seat on the Tube by a stranger for the first time.

The overwhelming emotions are those of surprise, indignation and insult, with gratitude a long way behind.  Some years later, I still try to avoid eye contact on a full Tube, so that no one makes what I continue to regard as
an unnecessary offer.

Dr Graham Mott
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire

Ticket to ride

Nicholas Lezard seems concerned that, residing in Stamford Hill, he has to get about by bus (Down and Out, 12 January). A short ten-minute journey on a No 76 to Tottenham Hale will bring him to Walthamstow Wetlands, or, should he feel this is a little too energetic, Beavertown and Pressure Drop breweries.

Keith Flett
London N17

Way with words

Amol Rajan (Uncommon Sense, 12 January) espouses “an unflinching devotion to getting things right.” Why, then, does he refer to “attendees” at a dinner.

Ric Cheyney
Talsarnau, Gwynedd

Spot on

Accurate and economical with the words on Toby Young (Leader, 12 January) – the perfect response.

Les Bright
Exeter