Presidential Power

While the media is busily biased presenting the dire consequences of a Donald Trump presidency and all the power he could wield in rolling back the progressive gains of the Obama administration even as President Obama has constantly lamented his lack of power to bring about fundamental change on his own, it is worth examining how much power a president has and from where it is derived.

In drafting the Constitution as the blueprint of the federal government, the Founders sought to create a system of checks and balances between the three branches to prevent any one branch from dominating the others at the expense of Americans and their liberty. The Executive Branch was designed as the administrator of the federal government with the power to negotiate treaties, administer the government, and direct the use of military force to protect the country from invasion. The Founders recognized that they were placing a great deal of power in one individual as president, and endeavored to limit this power by granting Congress control over the allocation of funds needed to run the government. In this way, the Founders put the power of the purse in the hands of the House of Representatives as a way to check the power of the presidency. They expected Congress to vigilantly protect its power as a check on the president’s power.

The president has only the authority granted to the office by the Founders in the Constitution. He is charged with administering the laws passed by Congress. He has absolutely no power to enact laws, period! Congress allocates funding for the president to administer the federal government and carry out the laws passed by Congress. The Founders were men of principle dedicated to putting the interests of the country before their own selfish interests, but they also realized that not all men were so principled and that later generations would not feel as patriotic as the generation which liberated America from British control in the Revolution. The idea of public service was to them a noble cause where men stepped away from their lives and careers to serve in government for the good of the people. They never intended public service to become a career path, but to be a temporary sacrifice performed by community leaders as part of their duty as citizens.

Several Americans have been elected to the presidency without having held elective office prior to their election as president. Many of the Founders such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe were elected president as their first elective office. After Washington, many of the Founders and early presidents served in the cabinets of previous presidents before being elected themselves. In the modern era, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower never held elective office prior to becoming president. There is a great deal of precedent behind the election of Americans to the presidency with little to no prior experience, and this was exactly how the Founders envisioned public service.

The last century saw the rise of the career politician seeking either to remain in office throughout his career or to climb the political ladder seeking higher office with the presidency as the apex of his political career. Americans have been conditioned to distrust anyone without prior political experience as these individuals are cast as inexperienced neophytes likely to make a mess of the complicated world situation. Anyone running for office is grilled on the most mundane minutia concerning the most obscure geopolitical situations and locations as if a lack of knowledge is indicative of unpreparedness and inability to serve. The fact is that presidents employ teams of advisors whose jobs are to keep up with these obscure geopolitical situations so as to be able to brief the president whenever necessary. This fact is conveniently ignored by the biased media in their quest to trap candidates into embarrassing situations with obscure “gotcha” questions all asked under the guise of informing the voters but really designed to obscure their bias towards progressives and liberals.

History presents several presidents considered to have greatly expanded the power of the presidency such as Abraham Lincoln who acted authoritatively in conducting the Civil War to preserve the Union. A study of the presidency reveals that individuals were most successful in expanding the power of the presidency in two key situations. In the first case, a powerful individual held the office boldly using the power of his personality to expand presidential power. Andrew Jackson provides an excellent example of this type of individual whose sheer force of personality allowed him to expand the power of the presidency while brooking no compromise from Congress or others. In the second case, a determined individual held the office adhering to an agenda while a weakened Congress failed to take action to obstruct his expansion of power as president. President Obama serves as an excellent example of this situation as he has consistently pursued the progressive agenda while a cowed and weakened Congress has either aided his agenda or failed to resist it.

Psychology identifies conditions whereby power expands to fill a vacuum while history demonstrates that there is no shortage of individuals willing to expand their power to fill that vacuum. The Founders fully intended for Congress to resist expansion of presidential power by powerful individuals, and intended for Congress to exercise its duty to resist usurpations of presidential power through the power of the purse. This is evident in the language of the Constitution and further explained in the Federalist Papers written to explain the intentions behind the Constitution. Failure by Congress to check the expansion of presidential power is a failure of their duty to the country as charged in the oaths they took upon being sworn into office.

Even in the case of powerful individuals exercising sheer force of their personalities to expand presidential power, it is still ultimately the fault of Congress for allowing the expansion of presidential power in the first place. The Founders fully intended for the House to exercise the power of the purse in refusing to allocate funds to operate the government whenever the president exceeded his authority as chief executive under the Constitution. A government shutdown was intended as an embarrassment to the president as it was such a drastic action that Congress would only embark on such a path under the direst of circumstances. The biased media have managed to turn this situation around so that the president now wears it as a badge of honor as they mercilessly hammer Congress for daring to challenge the president. Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, was able to proficiently explain to Americans why it was necessary for him to resist Congress through a government shutdown as he clearly enunciated the principles behind the situation and why we should patiently suffer through the situation. Today, the media begins with the premise that Congress is experiencing a temper tantrum in shutting down the government and causing Americans to suffer over esoteric political gamesmanship, and there is no attempt made to explain the impasse necessitating a government shutdown.

The result of allowing the rise of career politicians and the subsequent rise of a biased media dedicated to the advancement of the progressive agenda has been a political polarization with no common ground from which to build compromise to advance the interests of Americans. I’m not speaking of compromise as defined by the left as surrender by conservatives to adopt the progressive agenda, but of the classical definition of compromise whereby reasonable people who disagree come together to forge a solution that advances the interests of the country above the petty personal squabbles of those engaged in the effort. There would have to be fundamental change to the system to return to anything resembling the idea of public service as envisioned by the Founders as there are too many willing to take advantage of the situation if principled men decided to engage in limited public service before returning to their lives and careers.

We Americans must insist on a return to public service and the demise of the career politician by electing fresh faces to office instead of blindly returning the same individuals to office. We must also insist that the Fourth Estate return to its role as unbiased reporters of the news seeking to keep the system honest by exposing corruption and inconsistency regardless of party or ideology. That process has begun on an economic level with the demise of traditional media as Americans refuse to pay for media content they know is biased and untruthful. Yes, there is some convenience in acquiring one’s news from the digital realm, but the main advantage is that one can access a great many media sources in formulating their idea of the reality of any given situation. Americans no longer have to rely on a Walter Cronkite to tell them what to think about the day’s events. They can access multiple sources and formulate their own opinions which they are only too glad to do minus the bias thrown in by traditional media to obscure the truth.

We must also insist that those we elect as our Representatives in Congress understand their constitutional role as an integral part of the system of checks and balances carefully designed by the Founders to protect Americans from the tyranny of a government that can easily run roughshod over our liberty under an individual dedicated to the pursuit of an agenda at odds with the wishes of the vast majority of Americans. We must stop seeing elected officials as our masters and return to seeing them as our servants. Whenever given the chance, we must constantly challenge them to defend their intentions and votes.

The president has a certain amount of authority granted to him by the Constitution to fulfill his duties as the administrator of the federal government. Any power exercised by the president in excess of that power expressly granted by the Constitution is allowed by a Congress unwilling and unable to perform its constitutional duty to check that power through its ability to control government funding. Every expansion of presidential power that goes unchecked subsequently becomes power granted to future presidents upon which they attempt to further expand their power using as a basis the power which they inherent from their predecessors. Unchecked presidential power eventually leads to tyranny that curtails the liberty of Americans in direct violation of the Constitution. For the Constitution to work as intended by the Founders to protect our liberty there must be good men in office willing to perform their constitutional duty to check the power of those serving in each of the other two branches. Until we have that, our government will continue to drift away from the protection of our liberty towards the usurpation of our liberty as a tyranny of oppression.

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