The Corner


Following the Trend, Kamala Harris Promises to Be a Tyrant If Elected

Kamala Harris would like to be a monarch:

This is disqualifying. Harris is running to head up the executive branch within the United States government. She is not seeking the Iron Throne. Should she win, the powers that she would enjoy as president would be the same on the first day of her tenure as on the hundredth day of her tenure as on the last day of her tenure. They would not ebb and flow; they would not be subject to a shot clock; and they would be in no way affected by or contingent upon Congress’s willingness to acquiesce to her demands. Whatever Woodrow Wilson might have preferred, the American order is Newtonian, not Darwinian.

It bears repeating once again that there is no “if Congress doesn’t act, I will . . .” clause within the U.S. Constitution, nor is there any provision that accords legislative powers to the president in such cases as he is displeased by the legislature. If Congress refuses to act in an area of its control, nothing happens. That the president — or anyone else — considers Congress’s unwillingness to act annoying or feckless or even dangerous is, ultimately, irrelevant. So, too, is the topic under consideration: immigration, guns, taxes — it simply doesn’t matter. The first section of the first article within the Constitution holds that “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” That grant is absolute. It is not conditional, and the president gets no say over its maintenance.

If our system were healthy, Harris’s answer would have led to gasps from the audience, her immediate relegation to also-ran within the primary, and her replacement as a Senator from California. But our system is not healthy. As president, Barack Obama made precisely the same argument as Harris is making when, having said repeatedly that he could not act unilaterally on immigration because he was not a “king,” he decided to do it anyway because Congress would not. For this, he was neither impeached nor removed by the electorate at the subsequent election. President Trump, too, has made the same argument as Harris is making in relation to his coveted wall, right down to the insistence that to utter the word “emergency” is to imbue oneself with the authority to override the explicit will of Congress. Like Obama, Trump is unlikely to suffer seriously for his usurpations.

Which is to say that this is a bipartisan, structural problem, and that it is as much a problem of demand as of supply. Au fait as they were with the histories of Greece, Rome, Britain, and more, the Founders were preoccupied with limiting the chance that a tyrant would come along and render all other power centers sterile. Their Constitution, which is a great work of genius, is a testament to that desire. But Constitutions are not self-executing, and that Harris, like Obama and Trump before her, was applauded for her “strength” rather than booed off the stage in ignominy should serve as a warning. If the people want a king, they will get one.

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