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Arbitrary Executive Power is against the Constitution and Framer’s intent

Written By | Aug 29, 2019

WASHINGTON: The division of powers and system of checks and balances written into the Constitution is eroding. After years of Presidential abuse, Arbitrary Executive Power is now being used to forward party policy over the best interests of either party.

Congress alone has the power to take our country to war. Nonetheless, America has gone to war in places like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan without a Congressional Declaration. Both Democratic and Republican presidents have embarked upon such wars, and both Democrats and Republicans in recent days have permitted them to do so.

We are now engaged in various trade wars in which Congress has played no part.

The executive alone has announced tariffs on various countries and products. President Trump has also said that he wants  American businesses to prepare to withdraw from China. When asked upon what legislative basis he is taking such action, the president points to legislation passed by Congress, which gives him such powers in “an emergency.” The term “emergency” is never defined.




Thus, members of both parties in Congress have given the executive powers which the Constitution assigns to Congress.

Congress has slowly given Congressional Power away

Congress has been strangely silent about this dramatic growth in arbitrary executive authority. The Republican Party is hardly recognizable as the party of limited government, fiscal responsibility, free trade, and fear of executive power.

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Recent increases in spending are on track to push the deficit into levels of debt unseen since the end of World War ll. Predictions are that the federal deficit will expand to about $800 billion more than previously expected over the next decade.

The annual U.S. deficit will come close to hitting $1 trillion in 2019: an unusually high number during a period of economic growth, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)reports. Driving that number is spending as well as a massive tax cuts on corporate and individual taxes passed by Republicans in 2017.

The CBO report says:

“Deficits are now expected to be larger than previously projected, primarily because recently enacted legislation raised caps on discretionary appropriations for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. Partly offsetting the budgetary effects of new legislation are revisions to our economic forecast, which pushed down deficit projections. In particular, we reduced our projections of interest rates, which in turn lowered our projections of borrowing costs. We also raised our projections of economic growth in the near term.”

The Founding Fathers feared the growth of arbitrary government power.

They did their best to create a system that would prevent it, but they were afraid it might not work. In The Federalist Papers, James Madison wrote:

“It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”  ― James Madison, The Federalist Papers
Partisan politics often cause politicians to defend policies they later regret

They follow the party line because it is their party which is implementing them, and they want to remain “loyal.” This a strange kind of loyalty, abandoning a temporary partisan gain. It is ironic to hear Republicans condemn Democrats as “socialists” (which some are) while embracing a president who “commands” American business about what it should do. Who is ready, without proper legal authority, to engage in costly trade wars.

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Is this not the government controlling the economy? A definition of what socialism is?

Thoughtful and principled Republicans like George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Phil Crane fand Jack Kemp once represented Republicans. These men each had a deep respect for our system of constitutional government. They did not view their Democratic counterparts as “enemies,” but sought, as often as they could, to form coalitions to advance the best interests of the country.

We need a Republican Party like that again. We need one that fears arbitrary executive power. When and if such a party will reappear is challenging to predict. What we have now is something entirely different, and quite diminished.



Allan C. Brownfeld

Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.