President Donald Trump is unleashing a flurry of public policy shifts with his liberal use of Executive Orders and other Presidential powers. Given Trump’s heavy criticism of President Obama for “governing by Executive Order,” he is both guilty of Presidential overreach and hypocrisy. What Obama did and what Trump is doing, however, is nothing new. Presidents have long utilized Executive powers to intentionally circumvent the legislative process and the direct input of Congress, which has weakened the influence of Congress and strengthened the influence of the Executive Branch. The fear is, of course, that expanded Presidential powers make it far easier for an authoritarian regime to take root. On the other hand, there is a very compelling reason most Presidents have unilaterally expanded their own authority or sought added authority from a willing Congress.
Where President Obama faced unprecedented obstructionism from Republicans, President Trump faces unprecedented obstructionism from Democrats. Although this escalating cycle of bipartisan obstructionism defines a new era of extreme dysfunction for democratic governance, it is precisely the inability of Congress to respond to issues within a timely manner with effective legislation that pushed Congress to cede its own power to the President. The responsibility of the Executive Branch is to execute the will of Congress and the responsibility of the President is to be the top representative for all Americans. It is the President’s job to serve the interests of US citizens; whereas, members of Congress have the responsibility to represent the interests of their own constituents when crafting public policies for the good of the whole country. Because members of Congress became too interested in bending the legislative process to serve their constituents, i.e. pork, Congress steadily lost the ability to function and had to rely on the President to act.
Donald Trump is quickly learning that President Obama and his predecessors did not act to circumvent Congress, because they were simply power hungry dictators and know-it-alls. They acted out of the need to govern and address serious issues that Congress was neglecting. In many respects, the erosion of democratic governance in the United States can be blamed on members of Congress from both political parties, which means blame also rests on the shoulders of voters. It is the collective failure to understand and recognize the actual responsibility members of Congress share. Congressmen and Senators are not supposed to do whatever their constituents want. They are not supposed to bring home the pork for their own supporters or govern the country in line with the faction that elected them. Members of Congress are representatives, so their job is to help develop public policy solutions that work for the whole country while offering input, i.e. the interests and ideas of their constituents, from all those in their districts.
The strength of democracy is its ability to respond to the changing needs of the population. When governments no longer respond to the needs of the Peoples they govern, they become self-serving, dysfunctional, and oppressive then eventually collapse. Through proper representation, true democracies have the potential to more readily change with the shifting interests of their Peoples. Because members of Congress seek to use the federal government to fulfill the interests and enact the views of those who voted for them, they fail to govern for the whole country. Congressmen and Senators may represent the interests and views of individuals in their own districts, but they are in Congress to serve all of the American People. They are the public servants of all US citizens. As such, it is their job to govern the country and solve issues that effect all US citizens. This often means forgoing what they want for the sake of compromise and viable public policy solutions.
With that in mind, the President also plays a key role in the dysfunction of Congress. The President can either choose to enable the dysfunctional behavior of Congress by relieving Congress of its responsibilities through Presidential overreach and partisan politics or make members of Congress take responsibility. No matter what policies President Trump pursues, he is guaranteed to anger, at least, half of the country. When President Obama used Executive Orders, he also angered, at least, half of the county. Clearly, the easy solution is to assume not everyone can be pleased and ignore half of what the country wants and needs. Again, the President’s job is to executive the will of Congress and represent all of the American People. Instead of dictating public policy to the American People and Congress, the President should focus on the actual problem: members of Congress. Utilizing his skills as an entrepreneur, Mr. Trump needs to facilitate legislative deal-making by taking a hands-on approach with members of Congress from both political parties. He cannot fire them or tell them what to do, but he can help the legislative workforce work together as a more effective team.
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