In the age of President Donald Trump, politics seems to be losing it’s shock value. Whether it’s Kim Kardashian helping the White House craft criminal justice policy, our president tweeting at A$AP Rocky, or Andrew Yang’s idea to give $1,000 a month to every citizen in America, sometimes it really does feel like we’re living in the twilight zone. But one headline in particular rattled me more than anything. This past February, I saw one in the New York Times that Democrats had sponsored a resolution blocking Trump’s national emergency declaration, indicating their desire to curb the power of the executive order. Ironically, this came from the party whose leader just a short time ago famously (or infamously, depending on how you look at it) said that he didn’t need Congress to act on legislation because he had a pen and a phone (referring to the power of executive order). In a wild turn of events, the party who has largely advocated for the expansion of both the size and scope of the federal government is now warning of government overreach.
The vast expansion of executive power throughout American history is well-documented. To understand this augmentation, we need to start with where it all began: The Constitution. The Constitution clearly states in Article I, Section VIII that Congress has the power to declare war and to authorize funds to support those wars. In Article II, it explains the powers of the executive branch, designating the president as the “Commander in Chief,” granting him the responsibility of military strategy during times of war. In stark contrast to what the Framers intended, in recent history we have gone to war in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan on nothing but unilateral executive orders signed by the sitting president.
Article I, Section VII of the Constitution grants the president the authority to sign or veto legislation passed by Congress. It does not allow the President to create law by himself. Unfortunately, it seems as if this civics lesson was skipped by many vying to be our country’s top executive. President Obama ventured into deep waters in 2012 when he authored an executive memorandum completely restructuring immigration policy, known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” or DACA. With one stroke of his pen, he authorized legal status for nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants across the nation. As mentioned earlier , President Trump ruffled many feathers when he signed an executive order directing funds, previously set aside by Congress, to the Army Corps of Engineers to build a wall across the southern border. These sweeping acts completely bypassed the legislative branch and created law with no debate, no votes, and no discussion. This is not what the Founding Fathers intended.
It’s clear that executive overreach transcends partisan lines. In recent years, both Republican and Democratic presidents have used hundreds of executive orders each year to get things done their way. Several Democrats running for president in 2020 have said if they weren’t able to get their agenda through Congress, they’d just sign an executive order! On the other side of the aisle, President Trump, impatient with legislative deliberation, recently said he would use the executive order to get healthcare to the American people “FAST.” John Adams and our other Founding Fathers warned of this. In Federalist Paper No. 47, he wrote, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many… may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” With such a bold warning in mind, we should use this unique time in history to act on this unique consensus that our government should operate under the enumerated framework of the Constitution:
- Congress alone has the power of the purse. No executive order should be allowed to allocate or divert funds.
- Executive Orders have grown to astronomical proportions. By limiting the size and scope of these acts, we can return to the system of government our Founding Fathers created.
- Executive war powers need to be reined in. By fully repealing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and strengthening the War Powers Act of 1973, we can begin to scale back unilateral military involvement directed by the President alone.
The keystone of American exceptionalism is our Constitution. It was created in direct repudiation of the tyranny the colonies suffered through before the American Revolution. We as Americans have not enjoyed the blessings of freedom by accident. The Founding Fathers and generations after them fought for freedom; from the Civil War to Civil Rights, to World War II and beyond—freedom has never been free in our great nation.
This time the responsibility falls on our shoulders to fight for liberty. I hope we are up to the task: the very future of our nation depends on it.
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