Why even the Left won’t agree to reduce the power of President Trump
by Joshua Withrow
It has been a standard expectation, since at least the turn of the 20thcentury, that each president is likely to pass on an office to his successor that is more powerful than what he himself inherited. The rule seems to be that each party will complain about the overreach of the executive branch when the opposite party controls the White House, and then immediately forget their objections the second their party regains control.
Some have expressed hope (myself included) that the unique phenomenon that is Donald Trump could present an opportunity to meaningfully restrain the president’s power. Assuming that enough conservatives and even some main-line Republicans continue to have strong doubts about entrusting Trump with the imperial presidency, they could combine with the Democrats to take some of Congress’ lost authority back.
Sadly, there has thus far been very little indication that such a partnership is likely. The most immediate example of giving power away to the president is on the ability to hold up his appointees, which Democrats gave away by weakening the filibuster through a Senate rules change in 2013. Anecdotally, it seems that although there is some recognizance among Congressional Dems that their minority has been weakened by their short-sighted power play, their regret is more about Trump winning than any overriding principle. Though new Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. (F, 2%) did express some regret about the rules change recently, just two weeks before the election his predecessor had predicted that Senate Dems would eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court and judicial nominees as well.
Of course, another one of the fastest ways to disempower the executive branch is to reduce its ability to bypass the legislature by making law through the regulatory process. But the Left sees the massive regulatory state as perhaps the only bulwark stopping evil corporations from looting and pillaging the populace, destroying the environment, and oppressing every minority, so there’s little cooperation to be had there.
The framers of our Constitution assumed that respect for the rule of law might trump partisanship if the executive were to abuse his power.
It’s a sign of just how progressive the Democratic party has become. Those who value centralized government regulation of society above all else know that it’s far easier to create new programs and agencies than to destroy them. Thus, tearing down checks and balances within the government allows them to rapidly expand government when they’re in power far more effectively than Republicans are likely to contract it. For the calculating progressive, it’s just a waiting game until they regain control. The exponential growth of executive power means the Left can take two steps forward for every one step conservatives set them back.
Then there are executive orders. While Democrats decried President George W. Bush’s use of executive orders, most had little to say about President Obama’s even more aggressive use of the same (and vice-versa for most Republicans). The problem with these presidential fiats is that there is no real way to restrain them other than by Congress passing bills that are subject to a veto by the president. The framers of our Constitution assumed that respect for the rule of law might trump partisanship if the executive were to abuse his power. They hoped that Congress would be able to muster the supermajority necessary to stop an out-of-control executive.
If history be our guide, here it will be Republicans who stand in the way of limiting the executive, since someone who at least bears their brand now occupies the White House. Still, there are enough Republicans who value the Constitution in Congress that it is conceivable that if Trump greatly oversteps his bounds he could be overridden.
In the end, though, so much of maintaining a balance between the three constitutional branches of our government is predicated on the people elected and appointed within government having a fundamental respect for the process of creating and enforcing the law. As long as voters continue to demand a sort of “hero” president who promises to come to town and just “get stuff done,” every presidential election will be seen by the winning political party as a “mandate” to run roughshod over the other party to whatever extent they can get away with.
Congress is empowered by the Constitution to stand up against such impulsive tendencies by the president, whether using the power of the purse or by overriding his vetoes of their legislation. To accomplish that, however, would mean setting aside ideological differences in pursuit of making Congress an independent, relevant branch of government again.
Josh Withrow is an Associate Editor for Conservative Review and Director of Public Policy at Free the People. You can follow him on Twitter at @jgwithrow.
Originally published at www.conservativereview.com.