Every week that passes it seems that we read yet another major issue with our president and the operation of our government. This past week, we had the publication of Bob Woodward’s book, “Fear,” that called activities in the White House chaotic and the president, “unbalanced.” Many top officials were quoted, lending credence to Woodward’s findings.
Later in the week there was an op-ed published in the New York Times that was supposedly written by a White House insider who said there were several close to the president who were attempting to deal with the erratic actions of the president in order to protect the country.
The talking heads on the TV news shows say that (choose one) 1) such behavior by White House staff personnel is treasonous; 2) The groundwork is being laid for impeachment by Congress; 3) We are headed for a major “Constitutional crisis.” The crisis they are talking about is a direct confrontation between the Executive branch of the government with the Legislative and Judicial branches.
So, are we headed for a Constitutional crisis? The answer is a resounding “YES.” However, it won’t be as debilitating as the talking heads think. This isn’t a “first” for us. We have had many Constitutional crises over the years and have weathered every one. Our Constitution was born in crisis. It was written in secret and in violation of the existing document, the Articles of Confederation, at a time when we didn’t even have a president.
Many of our founding fathers were skeptical that this new democracy could even exist for more than a few years. After all, this was a government without precedent in the history of the world. It was just a theory advanced by the ancient Greeks. Benjamin Franklin wasn’t sure it could work at all. Alexander Hamilton wondered whether Washington should be appointed King. Thomas Jefferson, our first Secretary of State and third president, wasn’t even sure of the constitutionality of his own Louisiana Purchase. The wheels of government had just started to turn when the details of running a government reared their ugly heads. Somehow the devil is always in the details.
The current crisis has its foundation in the limitation of the power of the presidency. From time to time in our history, a president will be elected who envisions himself as having more power than the office is allowed by the Constitution. When that occurs trouble quickly follows.
The framers of the Constitution did not envision an all-powerful presidency. When they were writing our Constitution, they looked closely at the monarchies of Europe and decided they did not want a king like George of England or Louis XVI of France. Instead, the powers of the government were centered in Congress and our forefathers designed a relatively weak presidency, an administrative post to carry out the will of Congress. That means that any president has limitations on what he/she can do from the White House.
Our last two presidents had to resort to executive orders to get anything done because our two political parties have forgotten how to work together thus creating gridlock in Congress. In the recent past conflict seems the order of the day in Congress. We have a president with “possibilities,” who is caught up in that conflict.
So, are we headed into a Constitutional crisis? Oh, yes. We get one of those about every decade. But, our Constitution can handle ambiguity and it can handle change. It has flexibility. As written, it is a set of principles not a code of laws. We just have to remember to live by those principles. And, it is perfectly capable of handling conflict at the highest levels.
Our forefathers gave us a Constitution that can deal with any new crisis that appears. We just have to remember what it says and make it work for us. Smart people those forefathers.
— You can reach Dr. Mark L. Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Books by Hopkins, “Journey to Gettysburg, The Wounds of War, The World as it was When Jesus Came,” and “Facts & Opinions on the Issues of our Time,” can be acquired at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and through the E-mail above.