America’s founding fathers intentionally designed the position of president to be weak and dependent on the approval of the United States Congress. The executive branch was given considerable control over military and foreign matters, yet domestically the president could not pass laws or make any drastic changes to policy without administrative consent.
Over time, the president has gained considerable power—mostly obtained during times of emergency. From Andrew Jackson to Abraham Lincoln and even to Barack Obama, the presidency has gained extended ability to accomplish more than what was originally intended.
The American government carries on with the hopes and expectations that the American people will always elect a president who is responsible enough to handle the immense power of the presidency.
The American people elected a president with no prior government or political experience, a fickle and immature temperament and little respect for our country’s history or norms of governance in November. Coinciding with President Donald Trump’s rise to power is the increase in party polarization and in subsequent ineffectiveness of Congress.
Additionally, the power of executive orders has been expanded by recent presidents, as the Bush administration created secret surveillance programs and the Obama administration worked around a gridlocked Congress. Trump is now using the broad power of executive actions to quickly push through his agenda without addressing the checks and balances function of American government.
This is no way to govern, and Trump is fulfilling the promises he made throughout his campaign. In his dark, fiery Republican National Convention speech, he infamously laid out his nightmarish view of America and proclaimed that, “I alone can fix it.”
This is classic strongman demagoguery that has clear parallels in other presidential systems corrupted by dictatorial figures. We are now faced with a reckless president with immense power and a feckless Congress unable or unwilling to stop him.
Where Trump’s presidency will lead, I don’t have the faintest idea, but by the time it is over, there must be a significant reduction in the power of the president. Regardless of political party or ideological leaning, the idea of investing this much power in one person can lead to disaster.
A crucial issue is how the president has almost unilateral control over the nuclear arsenal. This may sound alarmist, but if we imagine Trump during an event akin to the Cuban Missile Crisis, can we be confident that it will be addressed rationally and safely?
One of the main obstacles in reducing the power of the president is the American people’s fascination with the presidency. Often we tend to be attached to iconic figures in politics who we believe can fix all our country’s problems. At the same time, we’re wholly disinterested in local and state politics that likely have larger impacts on our lives directly.
If we’re serious about fixing the problems in our country—and about diffusing the great tension between opposing political groups—we must believe in and rely on ourselves, not just one politician.