Right On: A loaded gun

Composite image, St. George News

OPINION – Alexander Hamilton, a forceful advocate for a strong federal executive, would be pleased. The last 30 years have seen a dramatic — and dangerous — increase in presidential power. Like Hamilton, now our democracy finds itself on the wrong end of a loaded gun.

With the rise of bad actors and insurgencies around the world, presidents have chosen to intervene. Reagan invaded Granada and sent troops into Lebanon. Bush I invaded Panama. Clinton bombed Serbia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq. Bush II invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

The wisdom and constitutionality of each action was vigorously debated in Congress and the press. Meanwhile, out of public view, each of these presidents employed controversial surveillance techniques.

Bush’s warrantless intercepts of domestic communications came to light in 2005 with a firestorm of controversy. The intercepts were ended within months but the political damage carried into the 2008 presidential campaign.

In October 2007, then Sen. Obama told DePaul University students that in “these last few years we’ve seen an unacceptable abuse of power at home. We’ve paid a heavy price for having a president whose priority is expanding his own power.” If elected, Obama pledged, he’d “turn the page on a growing empire of classified information” and “turn the page on the imperial presidency.”

In December 2007, Obama told the Boston Globe, “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

My, how times have changed in the last eight years!

Since 2009 Obama expanded Afghanistan troop levels to 100,000, launched two undeclared wars, deployed U.S. Special Forces to 85 countries and launched 10 times as many drone attacks as his predecessor.

Over Labor Day weekend 2016, Obama launched nearly 70 airstrikes across six countries: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.

Obama has cleared away most limitations on presidential war making.

Take Libya as an example. Under the 1973 War Powers Act, enacted to limit unilateral presidential military action, hostilities must be ended within 60 days without Congressional authorization. As the deadline approached, Obama claimed authorization wasn’t required since our bombing was a “kinetic military action.”

In the summer of 2013 former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed that the Obama administration had been intercepting Americans’ phone metadata under the theory that essentially all the nation’s calling records are relevant to counterterrorism investigations.

All of the military and surveillance actions above, from Reagan’s to Obama’s, were initiated by presidential executive orders. Each president defended his orders as complying with other laws or Supreme Court rulings, claiming they overrode the War Powers Act.

But unlike previous presidents, Obama has issued executive orders that overtly change existing domestic programs with no pretense of complying with their legal provisions and mandates.

He announced a “We Can’t Wait” initiative in 2011 with the following words: “We can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won’t act, I will.” His definition of a dysfunctional Congress is one that won’t rubber-stamp his far left liberal agenda.

Obama bragged, “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.” And he has used them — unlawfully and unconstitutionally in a number of cases. Obama has far surpassed all previous presidents in being slapped down by the courts. Even the liberals on the Supreme Court joined in rejecting his unconstitutional appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, 9-0.

The targets of two unconstitutional Obama executive orders deserve special note.

Think our immigration system is broken? No problem: Forget the dysfunctional Congress. The president made his own law. His Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, if implemented, would allow millions of aliens currently in the country to stay indefinitely, working and receiving government benefits.

He announced this plan several months before the 2014 midterm elections, intending to have maximum affect on the Hispanic vote. It has been halted in federal court and may end up in the Supreme Court.

Second, consider the (Un)Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Obama had made 43 significant unilateral changes to the act as of March 2016. He has ignored statutory mandates and deadlines at every turn.

Obama, supposedly a constitutional law professor, should review the following case. In striking down President Truman’s 1952 executive order in the Youngstown Sheet & Tube case, the Supreme Court held, “The executive order was not authorized by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and it cannot stand.” In a number of subsequent cases, none apparently read by Obama, the Court has reaffirmed this principle.

More than any recent president, Obama has embraced the anti-constitutional theory that congressional inaction is a legitimate source of presidential power. It’s a theory future presidents will build upon. In the words of the University of North Carolina legal scholar William P. Marshall, “The genies of unilateral executive action are not easily returned to the bottle.”

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley observed in December 2015, there is an “obvious danger” of rule by decree: The policies one favors “may not carry over to the next president, (but) the powers will.”

For most of the 2016 campaign, the idea of a President Trump seemed like a thought experiment a libertarian invented to get a liberal friend to focus on the dangers of concentrated power. Thoughtful conservatives are apprehensive as well, including this writer who did not vote for Trump and finds a number of Trump’s actions and positions objectionable.

Now Obama’s loaded gun will be handed to Donald Trump. Playwright Anton Chekov articulated the dramatic principle that if a gun is introduced in the first act, it needs to be fired in the second. The second act starts this month.

Howard Sierer is a developing columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.


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  • Not_So_Much January 19, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Thank you for writing this column.

  • comments January 19, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    I will admit Obongo had me fooled for a lot of years. This was before I realized how tyrannical and corrupted all of the MSM actually is (including many print magazines not even considered MSM). You control the flow of information and you control the narrative, and Obongo’s deep-state supporters have expertly fooled a great many people with their MSM propaganda machine. If Trump ends up being a tyrannical as Bush II and Obongo it could be a very dark future for the country. And the congress is so bought-off and corrupted they are basically useless for anything. Those that make and control the money supply have power over all the political system at this point. Also, this is the first article of Howard’s that I can agree with and doesn’t just blame “the liberals” for everything.

    • .... January 20, 2017 at 11:48 am

      Oh the butthurt runs deep on this one. You want some crying towels cry baby

  • r2d2 January 19, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    A very good article.

  • Rainbow Dash January 19, 2017 at 8:25 pm


    THis was a better article. I can tell that you used your frontal lobe this week instead of just copy/pasting nonsense from various anti-democratic fake news sites like Breitbart, christiantimesnewspaper.com and the Bundy Ranch Facebook page.
    I actually find that I agree with a few of your stances, especially the one about illegals. You say in part” The president made his own law. His Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, if implemented, would allow millions of aliens currently in the country to stay indefinitely, working and receiving government benefits.”

    It’s true, he did and this is one area where the President and I disagree. The fact is that there are to many illegals who are stealing money and jobs from hardworking LEGAL, LAW ABIDING U.S Citizens and residents. This has to stop. Those who are here illegally have to either become legal or go back to wherever they came from. In my opinion we have an obligation to provide immigrants with a path to citizenship but we are not obligated to house those who willingly break our laws and steal from us.

    • Henry January 20, 2017 at 9:27 am

      A succinct, well supported observation.

  • commonsense January 19, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    Good piece Howard.

    When a president ignores congress, impeachment must be considered. It’s the only threat to your “loaded gun”. Congress has no enforcement capability.

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