Monday, August 1, 2016

Trump, Clinton, and Executive Power

Pete Souza/White House
A rocky road ahead for constitutional governance.
If there was one single sentence in Donald Trump’s acceptance speech last week that summed up his entire campaign, it was this: “I alone can fix it.” Trump’s ideology may be amorphous, but he firmly believes in the “big man” school of politics. Like Putin, Erdogan, or the late Hugo Chávez, Trump sees himself as Horatius at the Bridge, the only thing standing between us and the dystopian future of his nightmares.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton eschews “I” in favor of the collective “we,” by which she means the government, by which she means her. Hillary’s book may famously have said, “It takes a village,” but she clearly sees herself as the chief of that village.
We’ve come a long way since the founding of the Republic, when the president was seen as “an executive,” who would “take care that the laws are faithfully executed,” not the legislator-in-chief. As James Madison warned in Federalist 47, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”
And that was against the backdrop of a time when the government itself had much less power.
But ever since, as the government accrued more and more power and authority, presidents have taken more and more of that power to themselves. And the last couple of decades have seen an acceleration of executive aggrandizement.
When Bill Clinton was first elected president, his advisor Paul Begala waxed rhapsodic about executive orders. “Stroke of the pen. Law of the Land. Kind of cool,” he gushed to the New York Times. Clinton was followed by George W. Bush, whose favored mechanism was the signing statement. That allowed him to sign bills into law, while simultaneously saying that he didn’t feel bound to enforce them. This led us, in turn, to Barack Obama and his famous “a pen and a phone.”
Read the rest of Michael Tanner's op-ed HERE.

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