Has Trump increased the power of the presidency?

A New York Times article claims that he has, but does not provide any evidence or even an example that the author cites as illustration of the claim. The claim seems more like a journalistic tic than anything else.

What does it mean to say that the president has increased his power? This answer is surprisingly difficult to answer. Trump has not accomplished very much. He does seem to have increased deportation—though it is not clear he has, maybe he has just shifted priorities and garnered news coverage from reporters who assumed he would. But the president already possesses the power to deport people—to decide how strictly to enforce the immigration laws. In the area of immigration, Trump is exercising the same power that his predecessors had.

Most discussions of presidential power focus on the institutions that constrain the president. If Trump abolished the judiciary, then we would assume that his power has increased. But Trump has not abolished the judiciary. He has criticized it in ways that are troubling, but the courts seem unintimidated. They have blocked his immigration-related orders, using Trump’s statements against him in a way that courts have never done before in presidential-powers litigation. Trump’s rhetorical attacks on the judiciary seem to have weakened him, at least for now.

Trump’s election has revived the press. His rhetorical attacks have done nothing to stop this revival, while he has not taken any concrete steps to restrict the press’ power. Left-leaning organizations like the ACLU have been showered with money and prestige. They help finance the litigation that has blocked Trump’s initiatives. State and local governments are refusing to cooperate with his deportation programs. Civil servants in federal agencies have leaked his plans, causing political embarrassment and mobilizing opposition.

Then there is Congress. With party majorities in both houses, a president would normally be in an enviable position. Yet Trump has failed in his legislative program so far, while committees have—albeit reluctantly—launched investigations of his Russia ties. The most notable incident was his failure to persuade Congress to appropriate funds for the Mexican border wall—his signature promise to the Trumpian faithful. He has also been slow to make appointments, possibly because of worries that the Senate will not confirm the people he nominates.

Trump’s failure in Congress can be traced to yet another constraint—the president’s dependence on establishment leaders, especially (but not exclusively) in the Republican party. Trump, hampered more than his predecessors by his lack of knowledge about government and the world, has depended on his advisors more than most. Outside of military affairs, he has turned to business leaders. Business has nothing in common with Trump’s supporters, and has been steering him toward conventional Republican business-friendly policies, both domestic and international. If Trump triumphs in his deregulatory agenda—and it is far from clear at this point that he will—should that be interpreted as a result of presidential power or as a result of its failure?

But we’re only at 100 days. Trump’s attacks on the press, the courts, and (increasingly) Congress and the party system, might do long-term damage to these institutions by causing the public to see them as narrowly partisan rather than devoted (as they like to claim) to the national interest. But unless Trump can establish himself as trustworthy and competent to more than a narrow band of the electorate, it is hard to see how these efforts could result in an increase in presidential power. More likely, he will further reduce his own power as people transfer their loyalty from the president to institutions that seem more trustworthy. Or, maybe he will reduce the power of these institutions—by persuading people not to trust them—and the presidency as an office. In short, he might accelerate the long-term decline in public confidence in the national government and further erode its capacity to govern. That’s not a story about the rise of presidential power but about the decline of the national government as an effective source of authority.