The Corner

Elections

King Bernie

Bernie Sanders during a campaign rally in Ames, Iowa, January 25, 2020 (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

The president isn’t a king!

So say Democratic-party jurors at the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. According to the Washington Post, one of those jurors, leading presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, plans to follow the path forged by the last Democrat president: circumventing Congress and unilaterally signing a slew of executive actions, including one declaring climate change a national emergency and banning the exportation of crude oil.

If Sanders wins the presidency — and I agree with those who argue it’s a plausible scenario — there’s virtually no chance that his socialistic agenda would pass through Congress, or, if it did, survive Supreme Court challenges. Bernie would be compelled to implement his policies as best he could through a massive bureaucratic effort.

Considering his rigid ideological outlook, one suspects Bernie would be quite comfortable leaning on nomenklatura rather than a legislature. As his boy Trotsky noted, “not believing in force is the same as not believing in gravity.”

Obama was probably the first president to openly argue that working around the law-making branch of American government was justified because Congress refused to take up his agenda. He had it backwards, of course. But Obama’s heart was in the right place, and the issues he championed were favored by all the right people, so many of the same congressional Democrats now feigning deep concern about the fate of checks and balances applauded him.

Obama’s pen-and-phone governance was corrosive not only because it fostered unrealistic expectations among voters about reach of the executive branch but because it simultaneously created a tremendous amount of anger and resentment in the opposition party.

Many of Trump’s most controversial executive actions revolved around rolling back Obama’s previous abuses — pulling out of the unsanctioned Paris Treaty, reversing the unconstitutional DACA, and killing the unconstitutional provisions in the ACA that were concocted by the Obama administration without Congress.

It was only when Trump declared a “state of emergency” at the Mexico–U.S. border that there was a renewed anxiety about the perils of governing by fiat, and an array of articles warning us about the threat of fascism.

Here’s how The Atlantic explained the legitimately scary powers of a national emergency:

The premise underlying emergency powers is simple: The government’s ordinary powers might be insufficient in a crisis, and amending the law to provide greater ones might be too slow and cumbersome. Emergency powers are meant to give the government a temporary boost until the emergency passes or there is time to change the law through normal legislative processes.

I opposed Trump’s efforts to fund a wall through a national-emergency declaration, as it was clearly an attempt to circumvent the legislative branch. The Supreme Court should overturn the abused National Emergencies Act.

Yet aside from any principled objections about governing in this manner, the situation becomes far more alarming when you have presidential candidates promising to declare emergency powers — and I exaggerate only slightly — over everything.

Trump’s emergency declaration was contained to a single issue and a single project. Declaring “climate change” — an amorphous threat that’s perpetually a decade away from destroying us all — a national emergency, however, puts virtually all economic activity under the executive branch’s purview. If we’re to believe media reports, there isn’t a single hardship faced by mankind that isn’t in some dubious way connected to the slight rise of the earth’s temperature. Sanders would empower the same bunch of Malthusian hysterics who have been indefatigably wrong about everything for the past 50 years, to run some of the world’s most powerful bureaucracies.

Obviously, there is only so much a president can do. Some governors would end up ignoring him. Some would challenge him in the courts. But if, as he maintains, climate change is an existential threat to our very existence, why would a President Sanders listen? It is more likely that we end up with the biggest abuse of executive power since FDR treated the country like his personal fiefdom.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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