Brust: The power of the executive branch has increased dramatically, and this is cause for concern

Allec Brust

It is very acceptable to be skeptical of the President elect.

As The Donald takes his beginning steps of his Presidential journey, I am sure many of us are a little stressed out about how Trump will perform in the executive branch. Racist jargon, sexist comments, idiotic tweets, and lashing out against reporters are only a few things that just won’t fly in the presidency.


However, the factors most people focus are more surface level; easily analyzed by the general public. Of course Trumps social stance is ridiculed constantly; it’s all the media covered during election season. Any average joe off the street knows that the tweeting and intolerant behavior is an issue… but what about tough political decisions? What about the science behind the politics that The Donald will impact?

One thing particularly concerning is how powerful the modern executive branch is. What a lot of people do not realize is that the executive branch has expanded its powers over the last couple decades, but not in ways tangible to the general public. Modern presidents dating back to Bush Sr. have sparked a few controversies that should be accounted for when predicting Trumps attitude in the presidency. Trump is already undoubtedly the most controversial U.S. president to date… Shouldn’t we be worried about past presidents abusing their power to predict Trumps behavior?

When it comes to signing statements, the mere definition has shifted since they were introduced in James Monroe’s presidency. In layman’s terms, signing statements were coined as a basic procedure of acceptance/distaste from the president over any said bill. Not a very sexy topic; merely the president’s interpretation of a bill. However, when Bush became president he worded signing statements to benefit his branch. For example, Bush repeatedly asserted in these statements that he would not act contrary to policies directing the president to “supervise the unitary executive branch”. These collections of like statements are arguably some of the most controversial, as Bush is asserting that congress cannot pass a law that undercut the constitutional authority of the president.

We can also look at how the definition of executive orders has shifted. Executive orders, by definition, should be given only when authority is needed in a timely manner independent of the public or congress. This is a huge subject of political controversy for many because it limits important decisions to the president and the president alone, which is unconstitutional at its core. Aside from that opinion, presidents have recently been issuing executive orders which have no merit when it comes to timeliness or needed authority. One incredibly controversial example is Bush’s use of executive power to give the NSA unwarranted access to eavesdrop on the phone calls of any U.S. citizen during his war on terror.

Executive orders and signing statements alone paint a picture of the increase in executive power. Power has not exactly expanded lawfully, more so by definition of what the president can and cannot do within set laws.

So the question is this… Will Donald Trump carry on this legacy? If he does… how?

I was particularly stumped envisioning Trump because it’s hard to judge such a sporadic character. Curious, I asked one of my political science professors, Matt Hitt, what political scientists were speculating on the topic.

His answer was as good as mine: We simply won’t know until Trump takes action in office.

Historically, executive power has only gone up, not down, as shown by the controversies surrounding signing statements and executive powers. Based on this statistic we can predict that yes, Trump will utilize any power given to him to get his policy across. However, with an election season that neglected policy coverage so heinously, it is difficult to predict Trumps attitudes. With his like minded cabinet and support of a Republican congress, he may not need to rely on his own power to get what he wants. Then again, his business persona and need to “win” everything, may prove otherwise.

I don’t have the strongest opinion on this topic because I don’t have a damn clue what to expect; that’s the point. Basic logic tells me that we should all be aware of Trump as he is already as controversial and power hungry as they come. However, the politically educated side of me says there’s no way Trump can expand his power that drastically under restrictions of checks and balances. Either way, it’s going to be quite a show watching how Trump uses (and potentially abuses) his presidential power.