If you’re anything like 100% of my social media friends, then you watched the inauguration on Friday with an impending sense of foreboding and despair. You’re also probably certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Trump will ruin this country and drive everything we’ve worked so hard for into the ground.
I have a newsflash for you: The president doesn’t have the kind of power that you think he does. At least, he’s not supposed to. If you’re still feeling a sense of terror surrounding the next four years, there might be a reason for that. That reason is the fact that the power of the executive branch has increased in power exponentially over the last eight years. President Obama created an executive so powerful that Trump can walk right in the front door and suck all of that power up.
For the past roughly seventy years, Republicans have been yelling at Democrats not to increase the power of the government. Any government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it all away. Also for the past seventy years, Democrats have told Republicans to kiss their ass.
Here’s a quick history lesson summed up so fast that all of my history and political science professors will wish they had my job: The United States started off in what we call the ‘orthodox’ years, meaning that the trust in government was small, and the federal government remained roughly equal, in power, to state governments. In constitution law, we call this time period the era of dual federalism, meaning again that the federal and state governments work in tandem with another, just as the founding fathers intended.
Then, everything suddenly changed in the 1930’s. This little thing called the Great Depression smacked the United States right in the face, and government flipped on its head. Now, we enter an era know as ‘the middle years,’ or in other words, ‘this is so crazy we cant think of a better thing to call it.’ In constitutional law, we call this the era of cooperative federalism. In a nutshell, the power of the federal government, from the thirties to the seventies, explodes. This is when Franklin D. Roosevelt takes over, and we see the creation of an alphabet soup of new federal agencies. This is also when we get the creation of federal welfare programs, Social Security, and other benefits to society like the Civilian conservation Corp. These programs had a lot to do with what brought the United States out of the Great Depression, and aimed to keep us from ever going back.
Now, in the early 20th century, we are seeing a return to the orthodox views of a dual federalist government; one that is smaller and less intrusive in people’s lives, as it should be. However, recent abuses of power in the executive branch have started giving many Republicans cause for concern. As noted in my coworker Allec Brusts’ column, titled The Power of the Executive Branch has Increased Dramatically, and this is Cause for Concern, the use of presidential signing statements has increased dramatically during the last sixteen years. A signing statement is when a president effectively writes their own, personal interpretation of a law when they sign it. The American Bar Association has stated that this “undermines the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers”. President Bush was infamous for using an asinine amount of signing statements, which caused massive congressional and legal outrage. When Obama campaigned for his presidency, he railed against Bush using signing statements, sayings things like “It is a clear abuse of power to use such statements as a license to evade laws that the president does not like or as an end run around provisions designed to foster accountability. I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law.”
Well, to say it succinctly, he’s a liar and a hypocrite. Obama has employed signing statements many, many times. Why wouldn’t he? He came into an office that actively supported it, and a congress and public that didn’t care anymore. Bush had given him the ultimate present: an job where Obama could walk in the front door with all the power that it had taken Bush eight years to get. It would actually be more ridiculous, logically speaking, for Obama to voluntarily give up that power than it would be to use it.
Now, Obama has done the same thing for Trump. I used the example of signing statements because its easy to understand yet relatively harmless. To put it in more terror-inducing terms, think about this: The country absolutely demonized Bush for engaging in two long, costly wars that killed innocent civilians and cost us trillions of dollars. Obama campaigned on the pledge that he would end the wars in the Middle East. Weirdly enough, eight years later, we still have troops in Iraq (that Obama doubled). On top of this, Obama has used the CIA to conduct military style drone strikes in countries that we aren’t even at war with. If you’ve ever been scared of your president, let this sink in: Obama was at war all eight years of his presidency, and used a non-military entity to drop bombs on potentially civilian targets in countries we aren’t even at war with, yet was still awarded with the Nobel peace prize. If this doesn’t sound like an absolutely terrifying overstep of executive power, then go live in the Soviet Union, because that is absolutely insane.
Now, Trump gets to walk right in that front door. All of the power that Obama piled up in his presidency is now being handed into the lap of Donald Trump with a nice, pretty little bow. Power only expands; it never recedes, and Trump has absolutely zero incentive to voluntarily shrink the power of the executive branch. If I had to guess, the only thing he will do is expand his power even more, just like Obama did after Bush. If you think that the incessant wars and ludicrous pay-or-be-punished healthcare plans were too much, then we’re all in for a world of hurt when Trump does whatever he wants on an even larger scale.
Take executive orders as another example. Executive orders are a power that is vested to the president absolutely nowhere in the constitution, yet they let the president act as if he is the legislative branch by letting them bypass the debate process that precedes a bill. One horrifying example of this is when Japanese Americans were placed into internment camps under Franklin D Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor. Executive orders had dropped dramatically since the days of FDR’s reign, due to the shift from a cooperative federalism ideal back to a dual federalism idea. However, at the height of his office, FDR issued over 3,500 executive orders, pushing one a day. While the usage has dropped considerably since then, the door has been left open for a president to be able to make executive orders at a rate of almost one per day. How many do you think Trump will make? He’s already used one in his first day in office.
So for those of you dreading Trump’s presidency, you only have yourself to blame. You’ve been warned for years that the government should not have too much power. Now, you created that power and put it right in the hands of your worst enemy. Congratulations, you played yourself.