A Critique of the Imperial Presidency

|| by Will Galloway ||

Columbia – Regardless of the identity of the 45th President of the United States, he or she will inherit the most powerful iteration of the office in the history of this country. This is inherently dangerous to the well being of this country.

For the first half our nation’s history, the Presidency of the United States has been a relatively weak office. There’s a reason you didn’t spend much time in your history classes talking about the domestic achievements of President Millard Fillmore. But beginning at the turn of the 20th century, our Commanders in Chief began to grow in power.

Beginning with the Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson administrations in the Progressive Era, and accelerating with the New Deal and Great Society, the power of our Chief Executive has expanded exponentially. Today, Presidents have the capacity to affect unilateral change with the stroke of a pen through executive order. Congress has, all too often, refuses to stand up to executive overreach. This leaves the Supreme Court as the only body that has the ability to constrain the President, yet the President has the ability to appoint these judges. This leaves us with a nearly unchecked President, far more in line with the monarchs of Old Europe than the Democratic Republic that our founders envisioned.

The Presidency was designed to be an inherently weak office. Under the Constitution, the President has all executive power not granted to congress, meaning that he cannot declare war, grant letters of marque, or regulate commerce, and many of the powers he does have, such as appointments and creation of treaties, are subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. The powers the President does have are Commander in Chief of the U.S. Military, meaning that while he does not have the ability to declare war, he controls the direction of the war; the ability to request the opinion of the various cabinet secretaries; to pardon offenses against the united states, not including impeachment; to appoint, with the advice and consent of the Senate, judges, consuls, ministers, ambassadors, secretaries, and other officers; to create, with the advice and consent of the Senate, treaties between the United States and other nations; and to make temporary recess appointments. In addition to these powers, which, notably, deal mostly with foreign policy, the President has several responsibilities enumerated by the Constitution. He has the responsibility to regularly update the Congress, which led to the State of the Union tradition; make recommendations to Congress; call extraordinary sessions of Congress in times of crisis; receive foreign representatives; and, most importantly of all, care for the faithful execution of the law.

It is this last responsibility that has led to the vast increase in executive power. Under the guise of enforcing the law, modern Presidents have sought to create the law. Our founders never intended for the executive to be this powerful. In fact, the first government they created under the Articles of Confederation did not even have a chief executive. Before the United States can ever reclaim the mantle of the world’s sole superpower, we must make sure that we return to the principles of constitutionally limited government, and checks and balances, that brought us to the forefront of the global community in the first place. This begins by electing a President committed to stopping the imperialization of this office.

So this begs the question of what a President can do to combat the expansion of powers. First, we must ensure that we elect leaders who are committed to restraint. The President must be cautious in issuing proclamations and executive orders, and careful only to do these in a manner that is not designed to circumvent the legislature. He or she must be thoughtful in appointments, and only appoint in recess if absolutely necessary. The President should not use the State of the Union to force the hand of the legislature, but to fulfill the responsibility of recommending. And he or she must take care to ensure that the law is executed as it is written, not as it ought to be.

Before the United States can rectify our problems such as the national debt, international decline, and lack of opportunity at home, we must begin to correct the Imperial Presidency, and return to the limited version of the Presidency that our Founders intended.

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