Charles Krauthammer, in a Washington Post OpEd, summarized a series of Executive Orders by President Obama which created law, unauthorized by Congress. (The Lawless Presidency, August 16, 2013). He then observed:
“Yet this president is not only untroubled by what he’s doing but open and rather proud. As he tells cheering crowds on his never-ending campaign-style tours: I am going to do such-and-such and I’m not going to wait for Congress.
That’s caudillo talk. That’s banana republic stuff. In this country, the president is required to win the consent of Congress first.
At stake is not some institutional curlicue. At stake is whether the laws are the law. And whether presidents get to write their own.”
President Trump meet President Obama. His leadership appears to have been infectious.
Charles Krauthammer, now deceased, was a constitutionalist with a pen but not a vote. Those with a vote — 535 to be exact — have miniaturized themselves. There are few institutionalists on either side of the aisle. Too bad. The Congress, constitutionally, is expected to lead, not just follow.
Both Obama and Trump, but especially the latter, have elevated the Judiciary, as members of Congress spend their time raising money and tribal fever for the next election. The Judiciary is now paired with what has become the fourth branch of government, a wide spectrum of special interest litigators. Today’s sequence: provocative tweets, executive orders, special interest suits to block the order, often nationwide injunctions by District Courts and then of course, judicial appeal. Members of Congress react like performance artists.
Congress’s enfeeblement enables sound and fury and sows confusion and cynicism. And, it is damnably difficult to discern a series of events, or able and winsome leaders, that in combination can restore institutional balance. But, I cannot conclude with the phrase institutional balance. I sound like a political scientist who doesn’t have a clue and retreats to his doctoral thesis for a conclusion.
I use the phrase because absent an intentional partnership between the White House and Congress, autocratic governments like China win. Distilled into the world of business, companies fail when ownership, Boards and CEOs fail to work both in tension and harmony.
Tension is good. Finding the best way forward across a wide range of issues is not easy. Ideas are inherently competitive, yet at no time in our history have we had better analytical tools to help reach objective conclusions.
President Obama’s edicts have been largely reversed by President Trump. Autocratic leadership is an oxymoron — elections and courts erase.
If America fails, it will be because democracy has failed. And democracy’s health is wholly contingent on one thing — a well-informed citizenry that insists Members of Congress work together to shoulder their responsibility. Are you optimistic?