He Wants Congress to be Impotent
Donald Trump has proved time and time again that he’s no fan of the separation of powers. He sees the presidency as an authoritarian figure, one who wields all of the nation’s power and who through unilateral action can shape policy and make decisions with immediate impact. These delusional visions have of course met with reality. Our Constitution divides power among three branches, with the legislative first of the equal. Trump’s found himself and his goals blocked or slowed by Congress. And he’s no fan of that.
At various points in his presidency, Trump has sought to rebalance governing power by exerting his authority over members of Congress. This stems from his campaign rhetoric, a central of theme of which held that he alone could fix the nation’s problems. Those words had no room for Congress to act; in fact, Trump seemed to entirely forget the institution, figuring that, if elected, he would be the one true sovereign. Now, as the executive, he’s tried to subvert a coequal branch by continually threatening lawmakers who dare oppose his agenda or stand up to him.
Most recently, after signing into law sanctions against Russia stemming from the country’s interference in our election – a fact which Trump continues to deny – Trump continued his frightening assault on the separation of powers, writing “I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”
First of all, Trump greatly overstates his deal making ability. His riches, contrary to what he says, stem from inheritance. In fact, Trump is multiple billions of dollars poorer than he would be had he passively invested his inheritance rather than trying to play businessman. Trump’s declared bankruptcy numerous times and nearly ran a casino into the ground (his father bailed him out by illegally infusing the casino with $3,000,000 in chips to circumvent lending regulations). Not to mention other failed ventures, such as Trump Steak, Trump Airlines, Trump Magazine, Trump Water, and Trump Vodka. Or the times he’s been sued for stiffing contractors. No, Trump is not a great dealmaker.
Trump’s continued fabrication about his deal making prowess, however, is not the worrying part of his statement. The second sentence, in which he touts his unilateral ability to make better deals than all of Congress, fundamentally attacks the separation of powers and seeks to delegitimize Congress, its ability, and its lawmaking authority.
The Founding Fathers gave Congress, especially the Senate, broad authority over legislative affairs, including foreign policy (there’s a reason the president must seek senatorial ratification for treaties). Congress has an explicit prerogative to regulate foreign commerce, a central component of foreign policy. Yet Trump’s words undermine the separation of powers by implying that he alone should be charged with foreign affairs and Congress should either cede to him all authority in that front or simply rubber-stamp all of his decisions. The words reek of contempt for Congress. He yearns for unilateral authority unchecked and unquestioned by another governing branch. In other words, he wants – and feels entitled to – a fundamental overhaul of the separation of powers simply because of his self-assumed greatness.
Trump’s statement also seeks to delegitimize Congress by implying the body is incompetent when it comes to foreign affairs – and its incompetence means America is worse off than had Congress simply sat back and allowed Trump to work his magic. This implication serves only to undermine any actions taken by Congress by leading people to immediately doubt any congressional creation, especially when it comes to foreign relations. Why should I trust Congress when the president himself has said the body is ineffectual when it comes to making deals? Why not just let Trump make deals and pass legislation? Why bother with Congress at all?
Lastly, Congress worked in a bipartisan and nearly unanimous fashion to craft these Russian sanctions, yet Trump nonetheless attacked the reason, ability, and effect of Congress’s work. Rarely do all members of Congress come together for something as important as the Russia sanctions – if the president claims that 99 percent of Congress can’t work together to do something as well as he could alone, how bad must be the laws passed by a bare majority? It implies that the bipartisan work of Congress cannot ever match the abilities of the president himself, a rather dictatorial sentiment. Trump’s saying that Congress, working in near unanimity to fulfill its explicit constitution duties, should not be making laws because the deals struck are subpar, especially when compared to what he could do. And that’s dangerous because it no longer assumes Congress should proactively perform its fundamental duties; rather, Congress should wait for the president to act and only follow the whims of the enlightened, dear leader.
This rhetoric should not be tolerated by any lawmaker who loves the Constitution. Attacks on Congress’s legitimacy and authority to carry out its constitution prerogatives should never be made by the president and never accepted by members of Congress. Representatives and senators should band together to unanimously pass a joint resolution stating the legislative branch’s authority to pass laws pertaining to foreign relations and issue a stern warning to the president: Undermine Congress at your own peril; your support is fleeting, the Constitution is forever.