“Our president is a president, not a king” is a sentiment I heard countless times during the Obama presidency. People around me generally disliked Obama’s generous use of executive orders; they feared he was taking steps to overextend the powers of the executive branch, a worry that extends back to America’s founding.
The Federalist Papers are thoroughly etched into the minds of the American conscience; nearly every civics class reviews them and their importance. Another set of papers, the anonymously penned Anti-Federalist papers, stood in opposition to the ratification of our Constitution.
A major fear among these authors was the yet-to-be-ratified Constitution would create a framework for an all-too-powerful executive branch.
I wonder how these Anti-Federalists, and even the Federalists, would react to President Trump saying: "Then I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president." This is the most egregious and offensive quote to come from American politics in my lifetime.
Context does the quote no favors; he was lambasting the soon-to-happen Mueller testimony in front of Congress.
This is not the first time Trump spoke so carelessly about his fantasized powers as president. In a June 2019 interview with George Stephanopoulos, he said: "Look, Article II, I would be allowed to fire Robert Mueller … Assuming I did all the things ... Number one, I didn't. He wasn't fired ... But more importantly, Article II allows me to do whatever I want. Article II would have allowed me to fire him.”
I will not belabor the point that Article II of the Constitution does not allow the president to do whatever he wants. Article II details the president’s authority as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the power to grant pardons, to make treaties with the Senate’s approval, and to present a State of the Union address.
For a president to say he can do “whatever he wants” endangers the very principles upon which this nation was founded.
Yes, the Constitution allows greater executive powers than the Articles of Confederation before it, but it was still intentionally designed with the notion the president is to be held accountable by other branches of government, and the American people and individual states are where true power lies.
The American presidency was intended to be a far cry from the authoritarian kingship of Britain, yet not a single GOP congressperson has rebuked this statement.
If we are to have a functioning separation of powers, executive overreach must be squashed where it stands.
Where is this accountability? Are legislators going to stand idly by as our president flippantly speaks against our very founding principles? Checks and balances exist, but they only exist if the other branches desire to hold the president accountable.
It saddens me deeply that such a statement is ‘just another thing Trump said.’ If Obama or any other president made such a statement, I can only imagine the outrage which would follow.
Benjamin Franklin warned us that we live in “a republic if you can keep it." We should make excuses for no entity, person, or institution which shows such blatant disregard for our founding principles.