The Power is the People's
The United States of America is based on the rule of law - the idea that everyone, including the president, is accountable to the law and that no person, not even the president, can set aside our laws or bend them for a political agenda. With that said, the president does not have the supreme power and ultimate discretion as to how, when, and why those laws will be enacted and enforced. Our country has a system of checks and balances in place that prevents the usurpation of power by one individual and, rather, promotes democracy over dictatorship.
“We accept in the fullest sense of the word the settled and persistent will of the people. All this idea of a group of supermen and super-planners, such as we see before us, “playing the angel,” as the French call it, and making the masses of the people do what they think is good for them, without any check or correction, is a violation of democracy. Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time; but there is the broad feeling in our country that the people should rule, continuously rule, and that public opinion, expressed by all constitutional means, should shape, guide, and control the actions of Ministers who are their servants and not their masters.”
- Winston Churchill, Leader of the Opposition, November 11, 1947
Congress, an equal branch to that of the executive, but now controlled by the same political party as President-elect Donald Trump, is the means by which many of those checks and balances are asserted. Congress has the Constitutional power to declare war, regulate trade, ratify treaties, define what are violations of international law, and call to action military forces with the support of our Nation. Outside of emergency situations, the president does not have those powers.
History suggests that Congress has loosely permitted excessive presidential action on both sides of the aisle. President Truman unilaterally decided to go to war with Korea. President Reagan took unilateral action in Libya. President Clinton ordered air strikes in Bosnia. Should that be permitted to continue? More recently, Congress did exercise its powers when it forced President Obama to obtain approval from the legislature before military action against the Syrian Assad regime began.
If Congress were to act, our legislature would have significant controls over immigration, tax reform, and our national budget - issues that were particularly divisive during the 2016 presidential campaigns. Whether the campaign headlines will come to actual fruition during the next presidency is yet to be foreseen. Perhaps no congressional action will be necessary and our Nation will be great, again or still depending on your politics.
Either way, we the people, as represented by our states' elected officials, have the ability to exercise, or not, the controls that our founding fathers believed to be inherent to the foundation of the United States. Moreover, our transition have been largely peacefully achieved, which is more than many countries of this world can say. With a focus on the future, let us be grateful that our Nation is capable of political change, such that all voters’ voices may be heard and acknowledged.
Author: Megan M. Fields, Esq.