As the United States considers going to war with Iran, we should re-read “The Imperial Presidency,” a book written by the late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. published in 1973.
Schlesinger reminded us that Congress controls foreign affairs and that Article VI of the Constitution grants this body the power to declare war. The president, however, acting as the commander-in-chief, more often has usurped this power and has committed the nation to war as a matter of expediency.
In other words, presidents are in a more favorable position to take action to protect what is conceived as a threat to national security than a collective group of individuals in Congress who may be less excited — and far less timely — in making such a decision.
That surely is the case today when the Senate has been reluctant to oppose decisions made by President Donald Trump and when the president often has ignored or opposed congressional action.
Anyone acquainted with public affairs knows that presidents have usurped legislative power on domestic issues as well as foreign affairs for decades. More recently this action has taken place through what is called the executive order. Schlesinger warned that we have much to fear from this type of practice, one associated with what he called the “Imperial Presidency.”
Barrack Obama often used the executive order to bypass a Republican Congress. Trump followed suit bypassing a Congress that represented his own party during the first two years of his term and is now divided.
In his book review Alfred C. Payne writes:
“A chief problem seems to be that of the unification of the people versus the growing tyranny of the executive. Presidential primacy is needed, not Presidential supremacy. We need a strong, independent President, but not an ‘Imperial’ one.
“The President, according to Schlesinger, needs to be able to take strong criticism and accept loyal opposition. He needs, too, a sense of humor and, of greatest importance, a respect for the Constitition and broad trust of the people.”
Unfortunately, our nation is divided on the manner of conducting governmental affairs and whose people are debating — and eventually will decide — on how “imperial” the presidency should be.