Punitive tariffs, arms sales, border wall funding, and more. Donald Trump regularly finds ways to pursue his policy preferences over the clear opposition of Congress. This is especially troubling since decisions on these matters are properly within the constitutional authority of the legislative branch.
As many political observers have observed, Congress has abdicated its policy making responsibilities by delegating immense amounts of power to the executive branch, and it needs to assert its authority and live up to its constitutional role. But while it is correct to promote a return to core constitutional values, we cannot rely on the virtue of our elected officials to do the right thing. Congress has defaulted on his constitutional duties for more than a century; there is no reason to think it will change. Indeed, our Constitution is premised on that reality.
As James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No. 51, elected officials are not “angels” so we need a government structure that protects against the abuse of power. Hence, our system of checks and balances. While we commonly think of the different branches of government checking each other, as when the President can veto a bill, Madison also recognized the need for “internal” checks on political power. For Congress, that meant dividing the legislative power between a House and Senate, so each could contain the other.
But Madison and his colleagues misjudged how Presidents would abuse their authority, so didn’t divide the executive power. With Congress (and the Supreme Court) failing as “external” checks on the White House, we should follow the model of the Constitution for Congress and divide the executive power so it is shared.
And excellent models for doing so exist in other countries, particularly Switzerland. In the Swiss executive branch, power is shared by seven cabinet ministers who represent the major political parties and decide on the basis of consensus. With that arrangement, the Swiss have been able to avoid the kinds of abuse of power that we have seen in this country.
They also have been able to avoid our high levels of partisan conflict. When everyone’s perspective is represented in the making of public policy, societal differences can be bridged.
For more on dividing the executive power, see here.