By Cameron Stuart | Radio Director
When the United States was in its infancy, a government was established, the likes of which would become revolutionary. The idea of representative government and democracy in the highest order was all to counteract the absolute tyranny suffered under the imperial reign of King George III.
All these grand new ideas of freedom, liberty and happy pursuits were forged in the U.S. Constitution, the document that, in my humble opinion, is the most important piece of literature in American history. What the Constitution does not explicitly mention, however, is the idea of executive actions. PBS states that executive action is “catch-all term that describes any action taken by the president” and can include executive orders, memorandums and proclamations. Essentially, they are orders from the president that do not need approval from Congress and, therefore, are not necessarily laws because they do not go through legislative approval.
That being said, executive actions have unfortunately been woven into the fabric of American history. There have certainly been both good and bad executive actions. For example, Abraham Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation was just that — a proclamation that did not pass through the legislative branch. On the other hand, the National Archives show that Executive Order 9066 from Franklin Roosevelt resulted in all people of Japanese descent living in America, citizen or undocumented, being relocated to military internment camps with inhumane living conditions.
Clearly, executive orders have exemplified the best and worst of decisions made by our country’s leaders, but the idea that a president can hold such power is what is wholly unconstitutional and usually ineffective. When our forefathers founded on this continent a new nation, there was little use for the office of the president within its democratic republic. In fact, James Madison, the so-called “Father of the Constitution,” vehemently opposed the idea of an executive president. In a 2017 interview with the Washington Post, historian Ray Raphael recalled Madison’s quote, saying the president would have “so much power and importance from a state of war that he might be tempted, if authorized, to impede a treaty of peace.”
Coming off this war against tyranny, the colonists were petrified to put too much power in the hands of one man. Therefore, the president served as a ceremonious figurehead, a moderator if you will. Today, we see men become a celebrity through their presidency, or vice versa, as has been the case twice in the last two scores. This should not at all be the case. The president is just one man; he can not possibly have the wit and the experience to effectively govern an entire nation by himself.
This is why I see the idea of executive actions as holistically un-American. The idea of this government is for it to be representative of the entirety of the country, not solely of the interests of the elite or of the working class or any one class of people. It is why we have the Electoral College elect our president rather than the popular vote and why we have equal representation for each state.
Thus we have the new hot-button issue of the proposed executive order from President Donald Trump to end birthright citizenship. No president has ever overridden a law explicitly explained in the Constitution via executive order, nor do they legally have the power to. The only problem is, the Constitution is not exactly explicit on this subject. In a Wall Street Journal article published last week, Matthew Spaulding writes that with “legislative lack of clarity, an executive order is perfectly proper, perhaps even necessary, to instruct executive-branch officials and agencies not to confer birthright citizenship.”
We are living in dangerous times when it comes to executive power, and we have been for a long time, so it is not just limited to Trump. In fact, his predecessor, President Barack Obama, did not garner a single vote from the Supreme Court justices he appointed, losing unanimously over 44 times, according to the Cato Institute. That means he lost unanimously twice as much as George Bush and Bill Clinton did in total.
These presidents are utilizing too much power, which Congress and the Senate have allowed them to gain over the last 70 years or so. As a nation, we knew in the 1790s that this country was far too big to be governed by a single man. Now, nearly five times the size as it was then, America’s best interests still do not lie in the hands of anyone’s Oval Office but rather by the elected officials of each of its 50 states. The further away we move from this idea, the closer we move to the dictatorial idea our founding fathers so greatly feared.
Cameron is a junior communication specialist major from Rockland, Mass.