The president of the United States has too much power

Trump is merely the continuation of an unsettling trend

(Leigh Vogel/Sipa USA/TNS)

(Leigh Vogel/Sipa USA/TNS)

By Greg Fournier, Collegian Columnist

If you are concerned that President Trump has gone or will go too far in overstepping his bounds as the leader of the executive branch, consider yourself part of a very large group that agrees with this sentiment. This consensus makes sense; after all, our country was founded on the principles of limited executive power, a result of years of oppression of the colonies by King George III, and those who wrote the Constitution were as wary of tyrannical leaders as modern-day people are of cockroaches. Despite this ideological harmony among the American people since the beginning of the Union, the country has been drifting away from the notion of legislative supremacy as the powers of the president have grown unnecessarily large.

The Constitution lays out the powers granted to the president. Those powers include being Commander-in-Chief of the military and being able to nominate officials including heads of executive offices, as well as Supreme Court justices. The Constitution also gives the president the ability to grant pardons except for those involved in impeachable offenses, the ability to make treaties with foreign nations subject to a two-thirds majority approval in the Senate and the ability to fill vacancies when the Senate is not in session. Almost every one of these powers has been overstepped by presidents in the past.

Take, for example, the first power: the president is the Commander-in-Chief of the military. However, the document gives conflicting directions regarding war-making powers. Article 1, Section 8 allows Congress to declare war. In theory, this means that any time U.S. troops are involved in some sort of conflict, Congress should have voted to send said troops to participate in the conflict. This, alas, has not been true for some time.

The last time Congress declared war was in 1942, denoting the entry of the U.S. into World War II. However, the U.S. has been involved in no less than 14 international conflicts since World War II. The Cold War conflicts of Korea and Vietnam come to mind, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when thinking about how much power the president has in sending troops internationally. While some of these wars may have been granted approval by Congress had they been given the chance, there is a good case to be made that the president should not be able to unilaterally decide to send troops wherever he pleases.

The apparent contradiction in the Constitution regarding the military is solved by Alexander Hamilton, who wrote in Federalist Paper No. 69 that “the President will have only the occasional command of such part of the militia of the nation as by legislative provision may be called into the actual service of the Union.” The executive office has extrapolated far too much out of its limited powers in wartime granted by the Constitution, and the power of making war should be returned solely to the legislature. Another instance in which the presidency has made a mockery of the Constitution is in the realm of treaties. As stated before, the president has the power to make treaties with other nations provided two-thirds of the Senate agrees to ratify them.Since two-thirds of the Senate is a large number (67 out of 100) to get to agree on anything, Franklin Delano Roosevelt often circumvented this idea by not calling his agreements treaties. In other words, he employed a bit of jargonistic gymnastics in order to avoid the arduous process of Senate ratification. While I have to give FDR credit for this relatively ingenious trick, it does not excuse the ideas that this move grabbed more power from the legislature than he should be forgiven for. The president should make treaties agreeable enough to get the Senate to ratify them.

Perhaps the most egregious form of presidential power-grabbing is the rapid increase in the writing of executive orders since the early days of the Union. An executive order is “a directive from the President that has much of the same power as a federal law.” There is no mention of executive orders in the Constitution, and for good reason: The legislature is supposed to make the laws, not the Executive Branch. In the early days of the Republic, presidents hardly used them: Jefferson, for instance, only issued four in his eight-year tenure. Contrast that with President Obama’s 276 in the same amount of time and you begin to get a picture of executive supremacy that is troubling. President Trump, by the way, is on track to issue 416 if he remains in office for eight years. While these numbers are down from the Roosevelt-era highs (FDR issued 3,721 executive orders in just over 12 years, an average of 307 per year), it is still far more than one would hope.

The U.S. executive branch has gained significant power over the years. While it is not quite as powerful as, say, King George’s excesses, it is still much more independently powerful than the Founders intended. I believe that this power-grab was an effort, perhaps exemplified most clearly in FDR’s era, to take over the powers of the legislature because of the perceived expertise of the president. But Congress represents the voice of the people and after all, this country was founded by the people, for the people. The president needs to recognize that Congress does a better job of representing the people than he does. The executive branch needs to take a step back and return to merely enforcing the rules, rather than making them.

Greg Fournier is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]