Article Analysis #6- the presidency: donald trump, congress

First, read a news story from the newspaper or the Internet.  Answer the following questions regarding your news story: 1) What is the main issue, who are the main actors being discussed;

Second, choose one of the assigned articles you read for this week.  Answer the following questions regarding the assigned article: 1) What are the basics of this article (who, what, when, how, why, etc.);  2) What is the overall main point the author is trying to convince you of?  3) Do you agree with the author’s argument?  Why?  Why not?

Finally, tie together your news story with what you learned from the assigned article, textbook readings, podcasts, videos, etc. for this week.  Type your answers using your own words, no outline or bullets, complete sentences and paragraphs, single-spaced, full-page.

Who’s in charge?

Donald Trump v Congress

When it comes to domestic policy, the president is less powerful than he seems


Jan 17th 2019

Print edition | United States

n 1989 william barr, then a White House lawyer, wrote a memorandum warning the president to be mindful of

attempts by Congress to encroach on his authority. Thirty years on Mr Barr, who will shortly become America’s attorney-

general, has had to defend himself in his Senate con�rmation hearings against the charge, which stems partly from the

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memo, that he holds an alarmingly expansionist theory of the presidency. Meanwhile, the actual president cannot extract

funds from Congress to build a wall along the southern border. The president’s main set-piece, the State of the Union, may

be postponed on the suggestion of Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, who reminded the White House that the speech is given

at the invitation of her o�ce, and that perhaps a written version would be �ne this time?

The con�ict between the legislative and executive branches that has given America its longest-ever shutdown is inherent to

presidential systems. Juan Linz, a sociologist and political scientist at Yale who died in 2013, argued that though America’s

constitution has been much-imitated, it only seemed to work in one place. Everywhere beyond America, making the

legislative and executive branches coequal eventually resulted in stalemate. In Latin America, Linz observed, the deadlock

was often broken by the army taking power. “The only presidential democracy with a long history of constitutional

continuity is the United States,” he concluded in 1990.

Since then, America’s government has su�ered three prolonged shutdowns, and is therefore looking a bit less exceptional

than it once did. When the two political parties were a jumbled collection of interest groups, con�ict was easier to manage.

Ronald Reagan could usually �nd enough like-minded Democrats to work with. Since then each party has become more

ideologically uniform, with little overlap between them. The current president cannot �nd a single member of the House

Democratic caucus who thinks that giving him $5.7bn for his wall so the shutdown can end is a reasonable deal.

The dominant view of the presidency has long been that in the con�ict with the legislature there is only one winner. Arthur

Schlesinger argued in “The Imperial Presidency” that America had already passed the point of no return in the 1970s: the

accretion of presidential power could not be undone, nor the o�ce returned to something resembling what the founders

intended. Bruce Ackerman, writing in 2010, echoed this in “The Decline and Fall of the American Republic”. Neomi Rao,

whom President Donald Trump has nominated to be a judge on the dc circuit, published a paper in 2015 on “administrative

collusion”, by which she meant the spineless tendency of lawmakers to give away powers to the executive. Yet the shutdown

is a reminder of how powerful Congress remains.

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In some ways the presidency is less powerful domestically than it was 50 years ago. The White House has built up its own

legal sta�, suborning the Justice Department and pushing the limits of presidential authority wherever possible. Judged by

spending, though, the executive branch is actually less imperial than under Eisenhower or Kennedy. The part of the budget

that the executive actually spends (non-defence discretionary spending), accounts for a lower share of gdp now than in the

1960s. Congressional deadlock, which has been a feature of government since the mid-1990s, empowers the president in

one way, inviting him to attempt rule by decree. It has also weakened the whole system that the president sits on top of.

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Jan 17th 2019

Print edition | United States

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About The Economist

The concern that an overmighty potus is a threat to the republic is a staple of American politics. It is often accompanied by

a side-order of hypocrisy. Thomas Je�erson insinuated that the �rst and second presidents harboured monarchical

ambitions and then, when he held the o�ce himself, concluded a deal doubling the territory of the republic without �rst

asking Congress. Conservatives have tended to put up most resistance to presidential overreach, but �nd their party is now

led by a president who has closed down a quarter of the federal government rather than bow to Congress, and wants to make

extensive use of eminent domain to build his wall.

Progressives cheered the expansion of presidential power in the 20th century up to the Vietnam war and Watergate. Since

then they have worried more about circumscribing the powers of the White House. Before he published “The Imperial

Presidency”, Schlesinger held a conventionally progressive view of the presidency, which during his lifetime had

vanquished the Depression, the Nazis and Jim Crow. When Nixon left the White House, Democrats in Congress then set

about codifying what presidents can and cannot do, to prevent future abuses. The �rst bill introduced by the new

Democratic majority in the House is designed to accomplish a similar cleanup for the post-Trump era.

That would be a sensible prophylactic. But it is also worth remembering that after Democrats lost their majority in the

House in 2010, Barack Obama spent the remaining six years of his presidency issuing executive orders, most of which were

then undone by his successor. Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan developed what he called

the Green Lantern theory of the presidency, named after a dc Comics character. Mr Nyhan described this as, “the belief that

the president can achieve any political or policy objective if only he tries hard enough or uses the right tactic.” Progressives

who lamented the limitations of Mr Obama’s domestic power forgot all about this when Mr Trump took o�ce, and assumed

he could govern by force of will. He cannot, and so the shutdown goes on.

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “Lovin’ it”


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