Saturday, September 8, 2018

No, Nikki, Resistance to Presidents Is Not "Fundamentally Wrong"

No, Nikki, Resistance to Presidents Is Not “Fundamentally Wrong”
Peter Schultz

Here is a passage from a column written by Nikki Haley, Trump’s UN ambassador, a link to which can be found below.

What this anonymous author is doing is very dangerous. He or she claims to be putting the country first, and that is the right goal. Everyone in government owes a greater loyalty to our country and our Constitution than to any individual officeholder. But a central part of our democracy requires that those who work directly for the president not secretly try to undermine him or his policies. What the author is describing is an extra-constitutional method of addressing policy disputes within the administration. That’s wrong on a fundamental level.”

            To cut to the chase, it is not “a central part of our democracy . . . that those who work directly for the president not secretly try to undermine him or his policies.” Our Constitution makes the president the “chief executive,” not the only executive. There are other executives, cabinet secretaries for example, who also possess executive powers and responsibilities that in many instances cannot legally be controlled by the president. For example, during the Watergate affair, Nixon could not fire the special prosecutor so he had to get another executive to do that after two executives, including the attorney general, refused to obey Nixon’s order. Talk about undermining the president and his policies. This act of disobedience led to Nixon’s resignation.

            Even officials who serve at the pleasure of the president possess powers that the president cannot legitimately control. He can fire a disobedient executive but he cannot assume the powers of even the newly appointed official. And because the president can fire some officials, acting covertly against the president when an executive thinks that is in the national interest makes sense. And, of course, this scene has been played out again and again and again in our political drama, with officials seeking to undermine the president and his policies. It is just part of a drama framed by the separation of powers in the service of limited government.

            Patrick Henry criticized the Constitution for “squinting in the direction of monarchy” and he was correct. But it only squints in that direction; it does not embrace monarchy and the presidency is, at most, a disguised monarch. But the disguise is important in helping to preserve constitutional or limited government. And in a limited government, the powers of all officials, and especially of the chief executive, are limited. How these limits are enforced, made real, is left up to the discretion of those whose duty it is to impose them.

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