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Opinion: We haven’t learned our lesson about presidential power

Every four to eight years, we hear the shrieking of one side of the American political spectrum as they warn of egregious abuses of power from within the walls of the White House – actions that will further decay our democratic republic and dismantle our system of checks and balances.

In 2016, Democrats predicted that Donald Trump’s presidency would bring death and despair upon any American who wasn’t white, straight, and lived in a cul-de-sac with a Ford pickup truck and a tire swing. Today, Republicans are predicting the ushering in of full-scale communism and Bible burnings every other Wednesday under Joe Biden. 

The bottom line remains that our nation seems continually worried about the ever-expanding powers being given to a single individual at the head of the executive branch, but that worry ends when the occupant belongs to a voter’s own political party.

Sage Naumann

To those who have fallen into the depths of despair with the election of Joe Biden as our next president – and to those who felt that same dread four years ago in the midst of Donald Trump’s ascension to our democratic throne – perhaps it’s time for some introspection, or even an intervention.

Barack Obama was elected to the presidency when I was just 13 years old. For the next eight years, I saw Republicans lead the charge against what U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called the “Imperial Presidency.” Cantor stated that President Obama “attempted to garner legislative authority, failed and then acted unilaterally in defiance” on a multitude of occasions.

As a conservative, I agree with many of the conclusions that Cantor and other Republicans of that era reached. But the lessons of past presidencies seemed to have been ignored when a new president – a Republican – began to sit behind the Resolute Desk.

Matter of fact, Republicans heaped praise upon Donald Trump when he bypassed Congress on a multitude of occasions, claiming that it was necessary due to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s unwillingness to work with the president. 

When Trump acted to extend COVID-19 relief programs, Republicans in Congress backed the move, and while Pelosi grumbled about how ineffective it would be, there was no attempt to challenge the efforts, mostly due to the political implications of attacking any sort of COVID-19 relief programs.

While the gridlock between Trump, Pelosi, etc., was indeed evident, it was also an intentional byproduct of our system. Our founding fathers created a government that attempts to slow down the legislative process to ensure deliberation, compromise, and above all, due diligence – dirty words in the 2020 political lexicon. 

The answer is not to increase the authority of the president; it’s to get our hands dirty and get something through the proper channels.

The presidency was never intended to hold the power that it does today, and as such, the occupant of the office was never meant to attract such attention from the masses. While it is undeniable that the president will always be the most powerful individual in our federal government, the Congress, state, and local governments should have just as much (if not more) attention paid to them.

At least since President Franklin Roosevelt, Americans have surrendered to the simplest (and perhaps laziest) form of political activism: only caring about the presidency. It’s why voter turnout is so much higher during presidential election years and why most Americans cannot name their member of Congress, let alone their city council member or school board member. 

More alarming, though, is the fact that our Congress has willingly allowed its power to shift to the Executive Branch in recent history, mostly during times where both branches were controlled by the same party.

Regardless of who won this election, Americans have still not learned their lesson with presidents.

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As Cantor asked in his case against Obama, “What would now prevent a subsequent president, with opposite policy predilections, from bypassing the checks on his own authority and enacting his own policies in this same manner?”

The answer to that question lies within every single American voter. 

Until we again put pressure upon Congress to reclaim their powers, until we stop praising unilateral executive action from the president (of either party), and until we stop looking upon the presidency as a monarchy, we can begin to restore the rule of law and balance to our federal government.


Sage Naumann of Brighton is a political professional, conservative commentator, and the spokesman for the Colorado Senate Republican Caucus.


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