It’s Time to End the Imperial Presidency
The President of the United States today is, for all intents and purposes, above the law. As envisioned by the drafters of the Constitution, the position of the “President” was supposed to be a very limited one. The Presidency, however, have steadily grown in power through the present day, and if there is any further expansion of this power… democracy itself is at risk. It’s time for Congress to step up and curtail the power for all those who might occupy the Oval Office.
The drafters of the Constitution were fearful of a king-like despot emerging in the executive branch. It for this reason that the executive position was named “President” at all. A President is someone who ‘presides over’, as opposed to “governor” or someone who ‘governs.’ The President had very limited powers; only those specifically given to him in the Constitution and by Congress, and carefully checked by the other branches of government. The President is Commander in Chief of the military, for example, but Congress had the real power to declare war and provide for war funding. Only Congress had the power to levy taxes, write laws…etc
The Presidency was viewed in this way through the end of the 19th century. Around the time of the Teddy Roosevelt administration, however, the concept of power began to shift. Instead of seeing power as limited only to the authority given to him by the Constitution and Congress, the inverse notion took hold: the President has all powers except as specifically prohibited by Congress or the Constitution.
And yet, since the Nixon era and continuing today under the Trump administration, Presidential power has become even more expansive, with the exploitation of legal loopholes running rampant. Presidents have been able to unilaterally start wars, with Congress not having officially declared war since WW2. The use of executive orders, a rarity in the early days of the Republic, has grown into a common occurrence, giving the President the power to de-facto legislate. Some of these executive orders go well beyond what was intended for Presidential authority, blocking the freedom of movement of people, censoring the internet, and even seizing funds from Congress allocated for other purposes.
When one individual has virtually unconstrained power, catastrophic mistakes are bound to happen. Most would agree that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was one of the greatest political blunders in American history. Trillions of dollars and thousands of lives were lost in a war that ultimately served no clear purpose. If the decision to go to war had been left to a vote in Congress, it probably never have happened. Political mistakes such like this, that are costly on the American people, are bound to increase in frequency with the growing concentration of Presidential power.
For all of its weaknesses, and there are many, Congress is more representative of the will of the American people than the President alone is. Congress is beholden to hundreds of competing interests that bring their own knowledge and wisdom to the table. When Congress legislates, the results are likely to be more carefully thought out, planned, and well designed than the executive directives of any single individual ever could be. As such, as intended by the founding fathers, it is time that Congress take back its rightful place in American politics as the center of decision-making and governmental authority.
Originally published at https://jlund.substack.com.