Do US Presidents have too much power?

Most people would agree that not just one man should rule the world. Yet the US president has incredible powers such as executive orders, the command over 6800 War heads and over 800 global military bases. After an exhausting presidential campaign emerging as the victor, the newly elected president finds their new home in the White House. With all their visions and aspirations ready for lift off. And in emperor Trump’s case to ‘make America great again’.  Although with America’s development of its federal government since the 1930’s along with their rise as a global force since World War II, large population and land mass over time it has become clear that America does in fact require a powerful president. Although the requirements are needed, just how much power that is available must be delved a little deeper.

In order to address the question put forward one must firstly define how much power the president does in fact have. Within Article II of the US Constitution, the President has the following rule of powers. The power to grant clemency, pardons and other absolution for crimes against the United States. For example, Obama’s recent pardon before he left the oval office of Chelsea Manning on her case of violating the US Espionage act. The President has the final command of the military including Army, Navy and National Guard. They must take care of the negotiating of treaties and overall foreign affairs. Not only do they sign bills they also employ executive officers, public ministers, councils, justices and ambassadors. The following act tells us the process in which the president can create a law.

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the

Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the

United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it,

with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who

shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to

reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall

agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the

other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by

two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law.

—U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 7, clause 2

The creators of the Constitution gave the President the power to veto acts of Congress to prevent the legislative branch from becoming too powerful. This system of ‘checks and balances as it is formally known due to the separation of powers into three divisions. The president also has the power to veto legislation, however this does not extend to actually amending the legislation. The power of drafting legislation is still wholly vested in congress. The ability for congress to override a veto with a two thirds majority also provides an institutional check on this presidential power, maintaining a balance in the separation of powers. Thus while this power is large in its significance, it is not unchecked nor is it immeasurable in its scope.

Although there are some restrictions, the president’s power continues in the respect that they can oversee the execution of the laws and recommend legislative changes to congress. In order to take on these responsibilities one must have ‘Executive power’. This is where the concept of the ‘Executive Order’ is derived from. Where we see cases of extreme action recently in respect to Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ Executive Order 13769 where he stopped all travel from 7 majority Muslim nations. Overtime these orders have been pushed and tested by the President. Arthur Schlesinger’s “The Imperial Presidency,” suggests that the President uses foreign issues to expand domestic power. For example, Trumps bombing of Syria within his first 100 days of office. This show of force on a sovereign nation caused large amounts of uproar from many other nations. However, it sent a clear message of power to the world. President Nixon in his autobiography in 2004 told the world he thought that congress would be imposing checks and balances on his executive orders. Once he understood congress had no interest in doing so he then believed he had effectively limitless power.

The exacerbated amount of power becomes more evident in times of national crisis. The ‘strong man’ approach by each American president has become common through previous executive leadership and the ongoing, widespread expectation that comes with it to address and tackle the crisis. This raises the question of power to a new high. The recent Bush administration provides a clear and evident example. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks he declared war on ‘terrorism’. Bush and his administration told the world they were fearful of Saddam Hussien and his apparent Weapons of Mass Destruction. The United States then proceeded to invade Iraq just two years later. With no evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction, no links to the 9/11 attacks and no approval by any countries under the United Nations. As a result, innocent lives were lost and no reasons for invasion justified. America went further breaching the Geneva convention through their torture centres for suspected terrorist in Guantanamo Bay Cuba “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” which was approved by 145 nations, including the United States. It declares that:

“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

It is this monarchical behaviour that not only undermines American democracy but heavily suggests that the president has accrued too much power.

The American citizens themselves did not go unaffected by this power. Not long after September 11 the National Security Agency were obtaining immense amounts of data about its citizens from emails, phone calls and even transactional data. All with the intension to prevent future terrorist attacks. At the time though this was highly illegal as the citizens were unaware and still had their human right to privacy. As codified in Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. All the while with the Bush administration well aware of this. Following his illegal eavesdropping on his citizens exactly three months after the 9/11 attacks President Bush told the world just how powerful he was in a speech at the Citadel:

“Our military has a new and essential mission. For states that support terror, it’s not enough that the consequences be costly – they must be devastating. The more credible this reality, the more likely that regimes will change their behaviour – making it less likely that America and our friends will need to use overwhelming force against them’’ George W Bush.

The amount of power and thus destruction on offer with Trump taking office has never been more prominent and nuclear threat has never been more imminent. Just a simple look into his history and justifiable concerns begin to raise in uncertainty if citizens of the world really want one person to have that much power. Especially Trump with his giant ego and self-image as a dealmaker. He makes terrifying statements in regards to nuclear war such as;

‘all options are on the table’

And in an interview with CBC 01/03/16;

Well, it is an absolute last stance. And, you know, I use the word unpredictable. You want to be unpredictable.

When his foreign policy is observed, it goes back to his fascination with deals. He perceives defence and nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip to achieve a good deal. Too add to this Trumps nuclear proliferation rhetoric and his constant twitter debacles. One must ask the question if it is safe to have a man of such nature in charge of the nuclear codes. The relationship between the US and Russia and of course North Korea is at an all-time low as of 2017. The incredible hostility and possible ramifications of these relationships is truly terrifying in the sense that all this power is ultimately concentrated into just one person. Thus, putting into perspective that there does need to be reform in the amount of power one man can have.

The most recent election between Clinton and Trump has never left America more divided. Its citizens were seen protesting and cursing at the options available for election. Although this disgust may be warranted it is in fact the flawed system that brought America to its knees. A system that allows the head of just a single legislative house to control the power of the free world. Since the American constitutional belief rests on just a single person the founding fathers introduced an elaborate system of checks and balances to share power amounts political branches. However, it is this system that can make a government hard to achieve anything. For example, Trumps first 100 days in office. There are failed Mexican border wall deals. Failed Obama care health reform and a failed infrastructure programme. With inhouse party coalitions and a complex system of checks and balances all acts failed.

Recent global index polls show Americas democratic system is failing. With it now being recognised as ‘flawed democracy’ largely due to citizen’s mistrust and massive corporate input. One quick glance at governments where democracy is more commonly received is Norway for example. There are eight political parties in Norway’s legislature instead of just two in respects to Democrats and Republicans. Norway’s system doesn’t allow a majority of power. Parties must build coalitions with enough support to form a government. Unlike America’s system of Democrats vs Republican. It is this division of power that America does not have that suggests why America is failing. Carl Knutsen a politics professor at the University of Oslo agrees;

“You have a lot of cooperation between parties in Norwegian politics and the political debate climate is much milder than in the U.S, I would say there is more cooperation and less confrontation’’.

Other reasons why Norway may be experiencing more democracy may be due to it being parliamentary and not presidential. Along with the Economists backing that Norway’s checks and balances allow for more policy movement.  Although many Americans take pride in their country’s separation of power between the president, Congress and the courts, critics say that presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama expanded their authority so this balance is now tipped heavily in favour of the White House.

Another country that prides itself and is globally recognised on democracy is Sweden. The Instrument of Government, which is the fundamental law that determines how Sweden is governed, begins with the sentence;

“All public power in Sweden proceeds from the people”.

This means that all decisions made at different levels of society have to be based on the opinions and interests on Sweden’s inhabitants. It this kind of democracy we can see in other countries that suggests the US President has occurred too much power.

In many respects the US President has accrued too much power. Whether it be in. The use of ‘Executive orders’ which have the full force of law. Illegal use of the NSA. American citizens feeling disenfranchised and no longer represented. Along with the evidence of other nations performing better democratically through their different systems. And of course, the power of the American military. These instruments continue to demonstrate the amount of power the president has to full effect. Overtime accruing an amount too much for a single person.