The growth and overreach of the executive branch is one of the most troubling trends in our nation, and in particular, within the last two presidencies. This is no surprise, the founders knew, and history has demonstrated that it is the nature of men to gravitate toward a central ruler. In the Old Testament we read of Samuel warning Israel against a King, and the subsequent loss of liberties, but they persisted and were finally granted a King. The French Revolution, which started out with such high hopes for liberty, equality, and fraternity eventually devolved into a dictatorship with Napoleon. Now in our nation, we are seeing history repeat itself as we slowly gravitate towards a stronger and stronger executive. The people are so desperate for “change”, they are willing to disregard all checks and balances for anyone who will promise to “make America great again”.
What happened to all the Americans that once stood for the constitution? Now it seems like the only time the people actually care about the constitution is when it’s not “their guy” in office. The Democrats cried and complained and shouted about George W. Bush as he abused his executive power. But they are suddenly pacified by the greatness of Barack Obama that they say nothing about his utter disregard for the constitution and the promises he made before he became president. Has anyone seen the anti-war Democrats since 2008? Yeah, me neither. In 2008, Barack Obama said “The biggest problems that we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through congress at all. And that’s what I intend to reverse when I’m President of the United States.” Then he became President and forgot his speechwriter ever put that on the teleprompter for him. Now the tables have turned and republicans whine about the abuse of power by President Obama, while at the same time largely supporting Donald Trump who has promised even more unconstitutional actions. Get your act together America, you can’t have it both ways. As David Harsanyi wrote in his recent article “Admit it. You just want your own Dictator”: “A person empowered to make everything great also has the power to make everything horrible. If a president alone can transform America, then something has gone terribly wrong with the system.”
Congress has abdicated so many of its responsibilities to the executive, they are no longer an effective check on them. For example, we haven’t been in a declared war since WWII. Sure there have been “extended military engagements”: Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but certainly these can’t be construed as war. Extended military engagements? Only a politician could possibly say that these are “extended military engagements” and not war. It would be as ridiculous as saying, “even though we are 18 trillion dollars in debt, we need more government spending to get out of debt.” Oh wait… they say that too.
Congress abdicated its war powers multiple times: the Tonkin Gulf resolution allowed President Johnson to make war in Vietnam and the Joint Resolution allowed President Bush the war making powers to go into Iraq. By giving this power to the executive, the legislative branch broke constitutional law. The check on this unconstitutional delegation should be from the judiciary since they are clearly breaking the law. A group of soldiers, their parents, and members of Congress sued President Bush claiming that the power to go into Iraq was given to him unconstitutionally. Unfortunately the courts stood by, watched, and did nothing.
The fact that they did nothing is concerning but the logic behind their inaction is even more troubling. The courts said “if there is no clear conflict between congress and the executive, the court will simply stay out of the way.” Basically what they’re saying is, “as long as congress is incompetent enough to willingly give up its power, we will let them.” This is precisely the situation where the courts should step in. I would argue it would be even more important for the courts to step in if congress was willingly giving its power to the executive than if the executive were trying to forcibly take it. Let’s say your duty is to guard something extremely important from someone who wants to steal it. You have a partner that is supposed to help you guard this valuable thing. Your partner decides to willingly give this item to the thief. Do you step in and stop him or do you stand aside because there is no conflict between the thief and your partner? Not only do you step in, but you have to do more because your partner has abandoned their responsibility. It’s a simple concept to understand, apparently too simple for our judiciary.
If we are going to “keep” the republic as our founding fathers desired us to, there are a few things that we have to change. We have to understand what is in our constitution and why it is there. Do you think it is any coincidence that the power to make war was vested in hundreds of statesmen rather than one strong executive? We have to hold our leaders accountable when they disregard the constitution and the natural rights it was designed to protect. Last of all, we need to stop the partisan bickering. It does not matter what party did this or what party did that. At this point, we can safely assume that the majority of both parties do not have our best interest at heart. The constitution, the checks, balances, and separation of powers are important to stand behind regardless of whether or not it is “your guy” in office.
Anderson, Rocky. “The Rule of Law.” Minutes 13:40-14:05. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECPGenexyKM.
Bernstein, David. “Flashback: Barack Obama on the “biggest problems we’re facing right now”.” Washington Post 21 November 2014.
Harsanyi, David. “Admit it. You Just Want Your Own Dictator.” Reason (2015): 1.
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