Presidential Power—How much is too much

Presidential Power—How much is too much–8fh.

More than a few commentators have analogized Donald Trump’s election to that of Andrew Jackson: anti-establishment, populist, and rooted in a grassroots anger against existing Washington ways and policies. And more than a few commentators have called Donald Trump’s tweets and media blasts a modern-day version of Theodore Roosevelt’s bully pulpit: a way to call out corporations and business elites for serving their own narrow interests over the broader ones of the nation.

What we have not seen is a Donald Trump who seems all that familiar with the constitutional “powers and duties” of an office he has now sworn to “faithfully execute.” On the one occasion during the campaign he was asked directly about a constitutional issue—his willingness as president to defer to Congress’s Article I prerogatives—his answer was a bollixed muddle that included a defense of an article that doesn’t even exist. Indeed, only a few minutes after taking it, the new president declared that “the oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans,” rather than, as the oath itself has it, a pledge to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Taken together, it appears that Donald Trump’s tenure may well be headed towards what critics will call an “imperial presidency,” that is, a presidency in which the administration acts as though the formalities of the law can be stretched or even ignored in the name of accomplishing a perceived larger public good. The criticism will not be new. Both George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s presidencies were labeled as such.

The first and most obvious element is America’s role in the world. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted long ago, the president’s power in comparison with that of the monarchs of Europe can appear weak, but the reason for this lies “more in circumstances than laws.” It is in foreign affairs that “the executive power of a nation finds occasion to deploy its skill and force.” A global power such as the United States will inevitably require a chief executive to wield expansive discretion on the world stage and especially so when at war.

Next, the expansion of the federal government and the regulatory state cannot help but lead to the expansion of the executive authority, as it administers the vast array of laws and mandates that now constitute American government. Even a president who wishes to clear the books of the thousands of regulations and policy directives issued by his predecessor will have to exercise his executive scythe in a manner governed by his own reading of the law and his own policy preferences.

In sum, by virtue of both its design and evolution, the presidency has taken on expansive powers. As a result, it’s not always easy to draw the correct line between the legitimate exercise of executive authority and its abuse. But it’s an issue almost guaranteed to arise given the new president’s stated agenda and his executive style. Democrats will be looking early and often for any perceived abuse of office. The more difficult task will be across the aisle. Republicans in Congress will want to push back against those charges as undoubtedly partisan and will sometimes agree with the policy ends being pursued by the president but, at the same time, have their own oaths to “support and defend the Constitution.” One suspects the next four years will not be easy ones for those who take their oath seriously.

source–weekly std, gary schmitt,


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