Giancarlo Diaz, Baruch College:
On November 8th it was decided after a divisive and bitter election who will hold the reins of the most powerful position any one individual can hold. On that day president-elect Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in an upset that has shocked the world. People across the country glued to their TV screens late into the night were either horrified or elated with the election results. It’s cliché to say but it truly does feel like our country is divided now more than ever over the struggle for the increasingly powerful presidency.
Thousands rally chanting “Not my President” against Donald Trump’s victory in cities across the country. There is even some growing support among Californians flirting with the idea of seceding from the Union in what’s been called Calexit. One can easily imagine Trump supporters being similarly frustrated with the results if Hillary Clinton had won, especially considering Donald Trump’s rhetoric about a “rigged election”. It’s almost impossible to watch the news and not see some sort violence or vandalization spurred by this election. This vitriolic hate on both sides is becoming more toxic and is degrading our civility towards each other; I fear it will continue to grow worse in the next presidential elections to come. In this era of increasingly vicious politicking, one has to ask what has caused all this hostile polarization and if anything can be done to remedy it.
Now is the time to reflect on the office of presidency and ask ourselves: should one person really have so much unilateral authority over the country? President Obama has often gone beyond his executive powers to appropriate funds, issues new regulations, and engage foreign nations, all without consulting the rightful constitutional authority that is vested in Congress. All of this is most evident when Obama decided to pick and choose which provisions of the Affordable Care Act to enforce or when he decided to intervene in Libya, all done without deferring to Congress. While many Democrats scoff when Republicans suggest that Barrack Obama’s flexible use of the executive office was unconstitutional, calling it an “imperial presidency”, many tend to forget when George Bush was President Republicans were conveniently silent and it was Democrats who were criticizing presidential overreach. Bush presided over a massive expansion of presidential power with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the commencement of drone warfare in the aftermath of 9/11. To clarify: don’t imagine there’s a constitutionally zealous Congress struggling to keep the president in line. Congress is in fact more than eager to transfer responsibility from the legislative branch to the executive. Congress granted the president “fast track” authority on trade which denies Congress the ability to amend or filibuster trade deals negotiated by the president. Congress has a chronic habit of writing legislation that is overly vague or complex, leaving federal agencies plenty of room to interpret how laws should be implemented, federal agencies whose heads are appointed at the president’s discretion. Congress does this purposely to mitigate public blame against them, as if the public policy becomes unpopular they can always just blame the president.
The Supreme Court, often considered the last hope of reigning in policy that exceeds the Constitution, seems to be succumbing to the same hostile polarization that is affecting the country with potential judges being selected based on how best they will serve the president’s agenda rather than how they will uphold the Constitution.
It should be clear now more than ever that neither Republicans nor Democrats care about abuses in power as long as it’s their candidate in power. Principles and ideologies espoused by our parties are merely afterthoughts as their main goal is the acquisition of the extremely powerful presidency. As George Orwell put it in his book 1984 “Power is not a means; it is an end…the object of power is power”. While everyone has heard that “power corrupts”, one always tends to think of our leaders but since we vote for our leaders, we all have a hand in the corrupting influence of power. What this corrupting influence has done is fuel this hostile polarization in America. Citizens don’t feel it’s enough to handle problems through local or state politics or even more preferably through non-governmental civil society instead executive power must be used to compel everyone regardless if they like it or not. While almost no one will openly admit it there is morbid pleasure in forcing others to act according to your will. Leftist in coastal urban centers want to “civilize” those backward hicks in rural America while right-wingers want to “moralize” to degenerate city slickers.
This bitter divide Americans feel towards each other is caused by this winner takes all battle our country has every four years for the presidency because simply so much power and authority rest in that one position. To reverse this trend of division we must accept that one size fits all policy decrees from one central authority are no way to run a country as diverse as ours. Thankfully our country from its founding has been historically accommodating and intrinsically built to allow people of with different beliefs and values to live in harmony with those of different values. Public policy need not be monolithic but pluralistic accommodating to the values of people in different states for example regardless of what you believe the positive or negatives are of Obamacare it is unquestionably not popular throughout the country. If people in Texas want a more free-market approach to healthcare while people in California want state intervention in their healthcare then that is their propagative and it should not be interfered with or forced upon the other. Hopefully one day Americans will realize the solution to power you detest is not to take hold of such power but to eliminate it altogether.