Is there abuse of power by Presidents? Is this a bipartisan issue?
In this last election cycle, there have been pundits, partisans, and media posturing as to who is colluding, corrupting and abusing their power, whether from the executive branch or the judicial branch. From the White House to the FBI, there is great speculation and investigation. This begs the question — is our Constitution protected by the three branches, and is our Republic at risk?
America has witnessed a roller coaster ride of political pander, gerrymandering, executive orders and events undisclosed to the public by the former administration. America has also witnessed an incoming President’s administration come under extreme scrutiny and investigation. Is this a new phenomenon? And when does the executive power given to the President become an abuse of power skirting on unconstitutional?
Each president that takes office appoints his administration and many federal positions. Those appointees must pass a confirmation hearing by the U.S. Senate, however, if a party of the incoming president holds the seats in both houses, it can be rather easy to confirm any nominee. The Obama administration had both houses of Congress in the first two years of his first presidential term. Now, after President Obama’s full year out of office, there have been a plethora of hearings, investigations, and media mayhem digging for dirt on the now sitting President Trump.
This isn’t the first time rivals have had such discourse boarding on election corruption. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who were once friends, viewed the direction of America in very different ways, and had an extremely hostile campaign against one another, finally ending many years later, with their reuniting as great friends until their death.
As we look at the history of our country since electing our first President to present day, we might wonder about the abuse of power from the highest office in the country. If power is placed in the hands of the highest office with the highest security clearance, and with an administration picked by that person, it could have repercussions that reach well beyond our own shores.
To understand how abuse of power can occur, or does occur, we need to first understand how our Founding Fathers, after arduous hours and arguments to not have a semblance of a monarchy, formed the three branches of government which were heavily debated in The Federalist Papers and solidified in our Constitution, expressed in Articles I, II and III. This separation of powers included the States’ governance as well.
The three branches of government, which are the Executive, Legislative, and the Judicial, were put into place as a protection to our individual sovereignty, our Constitution, and our democracy, that no one power could overrun our country by internal or external powers. It provided checks and balances in our government to limit their authorities and protect our Constitution.
The Executive Branch, which encompasses the Office of the President, the President’s Cabinet, multiple Federal Agencies and commissions, is where the overreach of power usually occurs. This was unique to the founding of America, unlike the very ruling monarchies that most of our Founding Fathers had fled or fought against.
Even with all the forethought placed on crafting our country and Constitution, every President, from George Washington to our current President, Donald Trump, have used the power of the pen with their authority of office to enact proclamations and decrees into law, some of which have been struck down or litigated over the centuries as found here.
Just three months after being sworn in, President George Washington on June 8, 1789, sent a letter to the former Confederation government “to impress me with a full, precise, and distinct general idea of the affairs of the United States,” although ‘executive orders’ had not yet been coined.
As we fast forward to President Clinton’s two terms in office, there were many concerns over his use of executive orders. Congress held hearings on various executive orders by Clinton, one was his land proclamation, setting aside 5 million acres under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which was intended for small parcels of land. The proclamation was heavily litigated and, eventually, struck down.
Prior to the attempt to seize 5 million acres, designations included less than 5,000 acres. There was limited internet at that time, and no other outlets for news other than traditional broadcast networks and print media, therefore, much wasn’t known about the extent of President Clinton’s excessive use of the power of the pen until much later.
Out of the last four Presidents, President Bill Clinton had the highest number of executive orders, at a whopping 308, compared to George W. Bush’s 291, Obama’s 276 and President Trump’s 58, as of January 9, 2018. These numbers were obtained from a report by University of California Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project.
History will ultimately be the judge, as institutions debate the effects of each president and party, as to their abuse of power or lack thereof. As America continues to find Her way in an extraordinary experiment of democracy, where “All men are created equal,” and regardless of a difference of opinions and directions, this much is true that ALL want to come, be and govern like Her, flaws and all!