Power (n) possessing control over others
Authority (n) the right to control, command, or determine
(Satire Alert: some of my readers may not realize that I am addressing serious issues with humor… you are allowed to LOL)
These definitions may seem to be splitting hairs. Leaders have power and authority. The fine difference is the source of control. Power can come from some socially accepted convention, or exerted by one’s own will. Authority is a right granted by a mutually agreed upon set of rule. In our governmental system in the USA, The Constitution is the set of rules by which authority is delegated to various leaders.
Article I, Section 1. All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States…
Article II, Section 1. The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.
Article III, Section 1. The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court…
All of us who were paying attention in Mr. Smith’s (that actually was his name) 8th grade Government class learned about the Balance of Power in our federal and state governments. The president pronounces his (hopefully, her, or maybe zir) agenda. The congress writes, debates, amends and passes bills. The president signs or vetoes the bills. Congress appropriates money for the legislation. The president and his various departments (full disclosure, this Dept of Alternative Facts has no budget from the federal government) draws up regulations and carries out the legislation. The courts only became involved when someone challenges the legislation.
Notice that I did not mention Executive Orders. While such presidential actions, or maneuvers, have gained popularity over the past century, executive orders are not mentioned in The Constitution. From president Trump’s behavior over the past two weeks, executive orders appear to be his plan of action to set out his agenda.
Most presidents have used executive orders. The total number and average per year vary, though most presidents used this procedure sparingly prior to Teddy Roosevelt. Prior to that period in our history, executive orders were used by t he president to respond to crises that arose, usually because of threats of war, when congress was not in session. Until the mid-20th century, travel might limited congress convening for days or weeks at a time. Executive orders were also generally temporary until congress could meet, draft and pass legislation that codified the content of the executive order.
Periods of national crisis, such as World Wars I and II, and the Great Depression, presented presidents with many more opportunities to justify using executive orders. Franklin D. Roosevelt set the record for the most executive orders, though he also set the record for the longest presidency. Cold war politics gave presidents a nice cycle of crises and executive orders to deal with, or perpetuate, the crises. Politicians like crises, as does the new cycle, for this justifies their exertion of power (that is opinion, not fact, just to be fair).
The past couple of decades, political polarization as resulted in congressional grid-lock. The epitome of this is exemplified in health care legislation. National health care proposals floundered in president Clinton’s terms in office. The Affordable Care Act passed contentiously, and even after enactment, was challenged by Republican law makers 60 times. President Obama used executive orders to push through what congress would not do. President Trump now uses executive orders to pressure congress to do its job.
What I see as changing is that, given the lack of leadership in congress, the presidency has gained more power, without authority. Executive orders were accepted as necessary to keep the government running when congress was not in session. Now executive orders are used to either pressure, or circumvent, a useless congress.
Maybe president Trump, and his advisors, mean well to jump-start congress. Maybe they are acting as autocrats, seeing the weakness in our legislative process. Maybe they are foolish enough to believe that we citizens are too concerned with our Facebook and YouTube videos of cute cats and goat yoga.
I have said before that if we want to know about political power and risks, read Plutarch’s Lives and watch Shakespeare’s history plays. Not much is new since the Greek and Roman periods. Power could not be more consolidated than under Elizabeth I.
As to president Trump, at a recent viewing of Henry VI, Part 2, the character whom I saw as Trumpian was Jack Cade, who claimed the right to the throne through his bricklayer father (hey, that’s close to real estate development, right?) and Plantagenet mother (Act IV, scene 2) … heads will roll (you mean like the acting Attorney General who questioned the constitutionality of president Trump’s executive order to ban travel of people from certain Muslim countries?)
Jack Cade: (Aside) I have thought upon it, it shall be so. Away, burn all the records of the realm: my mouth shall be the Parliament of England (Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, scene VII)