Thursday marks the anniversary of the adoption of our country’s constitution. Even though there are no fireworks being shot off, the day is just as important to our great nation as July 4. The Constitution is the single most important cornerstone which this country rests upon. It has defined what kind of nation the United States is, one which thrives off individualism and liberty.
The Constitution defines what our government’s powers are by breaking each of the three branches down. The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution in order to curtail the influences of the state while creating a strong enough central government to keep the union of states together. The balance they found was ideal. By establishing a federal system of government, the Founding Fathers were able to form a centralized government just strong enough to create unity, but also weak enough to allow the States, and more importantly, the people, to hold most of the power. The branch that was arguably the weakest at the writing of the Constitution was the Executive Branch.
In our modern times, where presidents can just sign executive orders extending welfare benefits or unilaterally declaring illegal immigrants to be citizens, we have lost appreciation for the original powers given to the head of the Executive Branch, the President.
The Constitution is very clear about the executive branch, it gives the president the power to command the military, sign or veto bills, make treaties with the consent of Congress, and make federal appointments, such as ambassadors or Supreme Court justices.
The Executive Branch was never meant to have as much power as it does now. We have presidential candidates who run on platforms such as healthcare, education, and tax policies. Those responsibilities are Congress’, not the President’s.
The Oval Office, as created by the Constitution, does not grant the president the sort of unlimited and vague powers that every recent president has seized. Additions to presidential power, such as executive agreements, international deals made by the executive branch that do not need congressional approval, and executive orders, orders issued from the Oval Office to compel a certain action, are not given to the president in the Constitution.
Instead, they come from vague interpretations from the Constitution, which allow the president to make such decisions.
This is not to say that these actions are unconstitutional necessarily, the Supreme Court has upheld both as legitimate forms of authority. It simply points out that several of the powers the president uses today are not explicitly listed and clearly should not be used as frequently as they currently are.
The president’s main duties are listed above, being commander-in-chief, making appointments, signing bills into law, and presiding over treaties. Most of these powers are not exactly relevant to many Americans’ day-to-day lives.
But now, the president has become a cultural figurehead, a sort of paternal figure to the public.
Because of this combination, the presidency has become an extremely contested position in American politics. It should not be.
The majority of the issues both Joe Biden and Donald Trump discuss are ones that the president has no legislative say in. The public expects action from a branch of government with little legitimate authority to make good on the promises those who run for it make.
This is not to say the president has no importance – law enforcement, foreign policy, and Supreme Court Justice appointments are always issues at the forefront of an election – but the quasi-dictatorial position the Oval Office, where executive actions are not only allowed and accepted, but anticipated, has adopted within the last several decades is not one that is healthy for the American Republic or the Constitution.