During President Obama’s tenure, many leftists urged his administration to act unilaterally through executive action to sidestep Republican “obstructionists” in Congress. In many instances, President Obama did take such action and, in doing so, he expanded the already bloated executive power he had inherited from his predecessor George W. Bush. Now that Donald Trump is president, leftists realize their disastrous mistake. President Obama left a loaded gun in the Oval Office and President Trump has already started firing away.
President Trump has put his inherited power to use within the first days of administration. The new president issued an order that will hamstring the Affordable Care Act. According to the New York Times, the order “gave federal agencies wide latitude to change, delay or waive provisions of the law that they deemed overly costly … essentially allowing the dismantling of the law to begin even before Congress moves to repeal it.” While I support the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, I cannot defend presidential action that is indistinguishable from legislation – a power that rightfully belongs to the Congress.
It is time for both the left and the right to “put the shoe on the other foot.” If leftists could not imagine the shoe on the other foot during the Obama years, they now have the unfortunate pleasure of watching President Trump wield his inherited power. This ought to convince leftists to reconsider their positions on government power, in general, and on executive power, in particular.
On the other hand, conservatives should not condone gross abuse of executive power. Many on the right have been sounding the alarm on executive power for the last eight years. Now that Republicans control the executive branch, conservatives are tempted to disregard principle in order to forward their agenda. Again, imagine the shoe on the other foot – how would they feel if President Obama or Hillary Clinton misused executive power to create leftist policies?
It has become fashionable to place party loyalty over loyalty to principles. While the left and the right fundamentally disagree on many principles, it ought to be indisputable that the expansion of executive power is unacceptable. A perpetual cycle of expansion of executive power by incoming presidential administrations is unsustainable. It leaves every policy achievement utterly meaningless, as the pen of one official can undo it a few short years later.
Congress must reclaim the powers it has abdicated. The Constitution establishes a republic. Extraordinary power concentrated within one leader – or in the hands of the faceless bureaucrats he controls – is anti-republican. If the leakage of Congressional power to the executive branch continues, then elections will continue to be extraordinarily volatile and the stakes will remain dangerously high.
Zach Gluckow is a freshman majoring in philosophy and political science.