More than 240 years ago, American colonists rejected the tyranny of King George III by signing the Declaration of Independence. Today, presidents and presidential candidates long for more autocracy.
The latest example comes from Democrat presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris.
“When elected president, I will give Congress 100 days to put a gun safety bill on my desk for signature,” she tweeted Monday. “And if they don’t, I will take executive action. I’ve seen too many autopsy photos and hugged too many mothers of homicide victims to not take action.”
That sentiment is closer to King George than George Washington. A dictator gets to impose laws at whim. The U.S. Constitution mandates that a president enforce the laws passed by Congress. That’s one way the separation of powers serves as a check on tyranny.
Harris is obviously frustrated that Congress hasn’t passed the gun control plan she favors. She supports a ban on so-called “assault” weapons. Her definition of that term is so broad that it includes America’s most popular rifle, the AR-15. AR stands for ArmaLite Rifle, the company that developed the weapon in the mid-1950s, not “assault rifle” as many believe.
Go figure that elected officials from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas are less supportive of that plan than a politician from California. These kinds of disagreements produce gridlock. That’s not a mistake. It’s exactly what the Constitution intended when there wasn’t consensus on proposed legislation.
The Founding Fathers intentionally made it difficult for a bill to become law. There are two houses of Congress with representatives apportioned in two different ways. The Senate has equal representation by state. The House has representation based on population. Further complicating matters, Senators serve six-year terms, which means a majority of the body can’t be voted out for two years or more. If a bill makes it through that morass, it still needs the president’s signature or to be passed again by two-thirds of each house.
This drawn-out process is designed precisely to guard against an autocrat deciding she knows what’s best and imposing her will on the country.
Unfortunately, Harris is far from the only one seeking to centralize power in the executive branch.
President Donald Trump shut the government down for 35 days seeking funding for a border wall. After congressional Democrats refused to budge, he declared a national emergency, which he claimed gave him access to $8 billion to build a border barrier.
In 2010, an interviewer asked then-President Barack Obama why his administration hadn’t implemented amnesty. “I am president, I am not king,” Obama said. “I can’t do these things just by myself. We have a system of government that requires the Congress to work with the executive branch to make it happen.”
Just two years later, Obama implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program anyway. It gave illegal immigrants brought to the country as children a short-term quasi-amnesty.
Americans rejected King George’s authoritarianism in 1776. He would have fared better if had been running for president in 2020.
Contact Victor Joecks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.