But it hasn’t turned out this way. James Burnham’s essential book Congress and the American Tradition outlines that one reason for this is that the executive branch was initially manned by the nation’s best men: George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. George Washington’s self-restraint made him a great man and a great president. But it also made the presidency itself great, something like the object of the emerging nation’s democratic cult. The impeachment power never developed as envisioned — as a powerful check on presidential ambition and power.

And now most men and women elected to Congress act like spectators to power. Many of them come to office apparently eager to matriculate from the Article 1 congressional branch into the perches of real power — as lobbyists, think-tank presidents, or media personalities.

The democratic character of the American people is withering surely in part because of the near total capture of the democratic spirit and imagination by the presidency, and the presidency’s capture by the administrative state. The fact that an unaccountable professional “policy class” has come to dominate national governments has motivated rebellious populist-nationalist movements across the developed world. When legislatures stopped making laws, the possibility of bargaining, compromise, and conciliation evaporated.

The people have been exiled from their own self-government. And the only way back is for Congress to begin cutting the executive branch and all its bureaucrat-run agencies down to size.