Does anyone else find this blurring of the lines between reality television and the US presidency a bit bizarre — yet, perhaps to be expected from a former reality TV personality now starring as the current commander in chief?
Using undue influence to interfere with the proceedings of “Dancing with the Stars” should be added to Trump’s list of impeachable offenses — tweeting to his supporters to vote to keep “Two-Left-Feet-Spicer,” as in former White House spokesman Sean Spicer, in the running. And they did, all the way up to the semifinals, to the frustration of DWTS judges and the early termination of far more talented contestants.
Sadly, this president paying more attention to the outcome of DWTS than to the 11 million American children suffering from food insecurity; frequent mass shootings; racial and economic injustice; deteriorating infrastructure and the existential threats to our environment could be compared to a Marie-Antoinette “Let them eat cake” moment.
Of course, meddling in the DWTS results is the lighter side of a much darker pattern of inappropriate use of presidential power.
Congressional representatives focusing on impeachment, which deals with transgressions already committed, have not done enough to stop reckless executive orders from being implemented. A prime example of this being the impulsive destabilizing troop withdrawal from the Syrian border mobilized after a conversation between President Trump and US frenemy Turkey’s President Erdogan. What prevented Congress from stopping this ill-advised operation?
Burbank-based US Rep. Adam Schiff, who also represents parts of Pasadena and Glendale, is spearheading the impeachment inquiry, and offered this opinion on limiting executive power:
“As our constitutional system has been tested by the Trump presidency, the courts have repeatedly blocked some of the most disturbing actions by his administration. Congress does not lack the power to act similarly, but there is a lack of will on the part of congressional Republicans to challenge this president,” Schiff said.
“In the wake of Watergate, Congress drafted and enacted critical reforms … to ensure that such an egregious abuse of power would not happen again. We have already begun the work of crafting another set of reforms that would similarly shore up our institutions and democracy.”
Let’s just hope those reforms include more resolve from both parties to review and block dangerous decisions before they are executed. This breakdown around unchecked executive power is catapulting us toward an autocracy.
As conservative commentator David Harsanyi recently remarked on Congress’ dereliction of duty, “Congress is the institution vested with the power to declare wars, to debate where we send troops, and decide which conflicts are funded. Presidents … abuse authorizations for the use of military force … without any buy-in from Congress.” He continues, “… the founders clearly foresaw Congress taking far more responsibility for conflicts we enter.”
These abuses go well beyond the longstanding constitutional debate over presidents’ unilateral military actions. Congress has allowed this president to carry out reckless decisions from dubious trade policies, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and cutting vital environmental health protections to those resulting in the inhumane and unconstitutional treatment of asylum seekers at the border.
Partisan divide, as Representative Schiff pointed out, played a part in congressional inaction in many of these instances. It is also true that congressional oversight does not guarantee wise action; case in point, Congress did authorize the US invasion of Iraq.
But when we see bipartisan (including Sen. Mitch McConnell), public, and military condemnation for the recent Syrian border US troop withdrawal, yet observed Congress doing nothing to stop it, there is clearly a serious imbalance of power at play.
We the people must demand that our representatives review, reform if necessary, and act upon their constitutional duties to right-size the powers of the office of the presidency and ensure that there are effective checks and balances for all branches of government.
It is not enough of a safeguard for Congress to rely on condemning or removing a president only after damage has been done, nor to look to elections to solve the problem. The ongoing backroom constitutional debate around preemptively limiting executive powers needs to be front and center, before it’s too late.
Robin Streichler is a Los Angeles-based writer. Her opinion pieces have appeared in local and national publications. She has also written for National Geographic Television. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.