Executive Overreach And Citizenship-Stripping Threaten The Constitutional Mechanisms That Ensure Liberal Democracy
US President Donald Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to fund his proposed wall along the US-Mexican border is a test for Congressional Republicans. Because the President is using emergency powers to circumvent Congressional opposition to his public policy priority and his alleged emergency is far from an “imminent threat,” Republicans must choose between their party leadership and the implications to the US Constitution. With Trump defenders framing the emergency declaration as a stand for national security, Republicans must also choose between national security and the Constitutional mechanisms that ensure the United States remains a democratic republic and the US government upholds the freedoms of all Americans. In many respects, it is a classic conundrum for those in government. A free society cannot exist without civil liberties and security. The answer is to choose both national security and liberal democratic governance.
Recognizing the balance of power between the branches and levels of government secures representation for the American People, which underpins the Constitutional protections and civil liberties enjoyed by all US citizens, the kind of executive overreach exemplified by Trump’s abuse of the President’s emergency powers cannot be tolerated. By no means has the US ever been a pure liberal democracy, but it has grown increasingly less illiberal and less ill-democratic as government has reaffirmed an increasing number of civil liberties for an increasingly inclusive citizenry over the course of US history. In recent years, however, government has become less responsive to the will of the American People and less representative of US citizens. Not only are factions on both fringes of the political spectrum over-represented, political division and dysfunction routinely prevent government from addressing the interests of the American People within a reasonable time frame. This has created an increasing reliance on the Executive Branch to act without, and often against, the will of Congress. Clearly, this trend is undermining the Constitutional framework America needs to remain a free country.
Due to the urgency often associated with national security issues, it is especially easy to simply disregard the need for balance when the legislature cannot respond quickly enough. Under threat, whether a real or perceived threat, it is easy to override the Constitutional provisions that restrain oppressive government and inhibit the abuse of power. It is also easy to sacrifice civil liberties for security. Instead of respecting the need for balance in government, as well as the need for balance between civil liberties and national security, it is easy to favor the most obvious and straightforward solutions. Trump’s border wall may or may not actually help secure the US-Mexican border from security threats, but the process by which he is attempting to fund it is an affront to the barriers the US Constitution places on those in government. Congress debated and rejected Trump’s policy preference, so the only option that upholds the US Constitution is to push for another public policy solution to the issue.
Furthermore, executive overreach is only a symptom of a failure to find balance between national security and the protections of the US Constitution. Citizenship is both the most fundamental right and guarantor of the right to government protections. The ability to obtain and retain citizenship is, therefore, a particularly good measure of how secure the freedoms of individuals are in any given country. The willingness of societies and government to uphold the rights of the most unsavory characters is also a measure of how secure the freedoms of all individuals are. In the UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, certain individuals recognized as terrorists are having their citizenship stripped. Like all violent criminals, terrorists must face the full weight of the law, but efforts to strip citizens of their citizenship, whether they are born citizens or naturalized, undermines the legal barriers that protect all law-abiding citizens. In other words, it invites tyranny, which is terrorism by government. Regrettably, the case of Hoda Muthana, who might be considered as much a victim of Islamic State recruit efforts as a terrorist, demonstrates the same failure to hold citizenship sacrosanct in the US.
Both executive overreach and citizenship-stripping represent a troubling failure of those in government to recognize and uphold the basic mechanisms needed to ensure proper governance and individual freedom. The reality that efforts by these political leaders receive the backing of their supporters shows a lack of understanding and support for these basic mechanisms. In the case of Trump’s emergency declaration, even if the lack of a border wall actually represents an imminent threat, the balance of power cannot be violated. Republicans must stand against the Republican President in order to uphold the Constitution. In the case of citizenship, there is no crime or security threat that should empower governments to strip their citizens of all their rights. For those who truly believe in democratic representation and freedom, this is a basic tenet of proper governance. Security threats need to be confronted and those who do harm to others need to be held accountable by the Law, but these things need to be accomplished while upholding the boundaries and civil liberties established within the framework of the US Constitution.
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