The overstep of presidential power


Ashton Nanninga

An illustration of the globe spinning on someone's finger like a basketball. The American flag is in the background.
“Far-reaching policies should have more oversight and accountability to more than just one person.” Illustration by Mars Nevada.

The United States has long been seen as a global superpower. Much of America’s power comes from its size: It is one of the largest countries both by population and area. Colonialism led to the expansion of the states. By moving westward, as well as seizing several Pacific islands, America’s overt imperialism grew the nation from a colony to a world power.

Being a world power has led America to having the unofficial title of world leader, mostly through military and governmental force. This title comes with heavy responsibility—the duty to provide oversight and critical decision making for domestic and foreign affairs falls on the shoulders of our elected officials.

The three branches of government – judicial, executive and legislative – are nominated to appropriately handle this responsibility. However, with increasingly globalized, connected and complex world economies, elected officials’ roles come with a more impactful toll each passing day. And our nation’s figurehead, the president, has the obligation to guide the government through agenda setting, oversight and immense executive power. Within this function of presidency, lies the inherent problem with executive power while governing a world superpower.

Since the creation of the Constitution, a system of checks and balances has been in place in order to establish stability between the three branches of government. However, the power structure moved far from equilibrium as America has progressed. According to Gregory Petrow, Ph.D., a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, there are several concerns with the check and balance system that is in place.

“The framers established these checks and balances, and the framework is there for them to function,” Petrow said. “However, they function based on context and not in any absolute sense.”

According to the National Archives, an executive order is a written official document signed by the president that is unable to be overturned by any branch of government. Essentially, the president can issue executive orders for agencies whenever they deem necessary. However, the result can be detrimental when presidents issue orders when Congress is gridlocked.

“One would think that the matter of these orders would be cut and dry, but a major political variable matters,” Petrow said. “If the branches would exert themselves more, democracy would be healthier for it.”

Petrow explained that there should be more direct accountability of executive agencies to congressional oversight. He also said that a 10-year term limit should be applied to the Supreme Court system, which would limit presidential power.

“You would get a court that is more responsive to current thinking and also more responsive to what the recent partisan composition of the White House has been,” Petrow said. “Which would lead the court to be more active in limiting the president.”

Overall, the president’s job is one of extreme power and decision-making. Executive order is just one function where the president can express authority. Decisions presidents make can affect millions of people. These far-reaching policies should have more oversight and accountability to more than just one person.

The job of the president, as it reaches across national and foreign affairs, should be delegated more effectively across our system of checks and balances. The president, singularly, should not be able to make such dramatic decisions and enforce orders so overreaching.