If only many more Vice-Presidents, or Presidents of the United States under such extraordinary circumstances as an assassination and death of their preceding President, in this case Abraham Lincoln, could be so brutally honest and so unequivocally correct. Most likely this country would have been a much, much better led nation.
President Andrew Johnson is widely regarded by U.S. historians as one of six of America’s worst, most abusive Presidents of their office in all of the 247-years of this country’s federal government. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. on Presidential legacies, states:
Andrew Johnson’s racism and antipathy towards African-American civil rights were a harbinger for similar attitudes to come during Reconstruction.
[He is] the first president to be impeached—but not convicted or removed from office—Johnson often contends with James Buchanan for the title of worst president.Smithsonian institute’s national portrait gallery — at https://www.si.edu/spotlight/knowing-the-presidents-andrew-johnson — accessed jan. 11, 2023
Prior to former President Donald Trump, Richard M. Nixon was hands down regarded as the No. 1 All-time Worst U.S. President in our nation’s history. After January 6th, 2021 and the attack and insurrection on the U.S. Capitol Building, later proven to be premeditated, formed, led, and incited by former President Trump, the top-spot of “Worst President Ever” was far surpassed by the complicit, derelict behavior of the incompetent D.J. Trump. This begs the prior closing questions from Part 2: A New U.S. Constitution… How did the office of POTUS gain so much power and influence over both a triumvirate federal government and a minority radical mob of its citizens? We now continue from Part 2 and the dire need for a new 21st-century U.S. Constitution.
On a side note, I apologize for the delay of this Part 3. Mom’s severe dementia (early pre-stage Alzheimer’s) went through a past 2-3 week tough phase. It took a lot out of me as well managing it. Her PCP prescribed a new Alzheimer’s slash dementia drug that didn’t go as expected; too many side-effects for her. So we’ve been given another one: Memantine. So far, so good.
As noted in the previous Part 2, the 1787 Constitutional Convention gave immense power and control to the President. Recapping some of those powers, he or she possessed/possesses:
- Ultimate command and decision of all U.S. military branches.
- Power to veto any Congressional legislation, unless two-thirds of both Chambers overturned the veto.
- Nominate virtually every single major federal officials and judges with Senate confirmation.
- Office staying power unless a supermajority impeaches the President.
- Conduct diplomacy with foreign nations, both friendly and otherwise, and sign treaties with the Senate’s approval, whether popular or not by the American people.
- Issuing Executive Orders, which clarify laws as the President interprets them or direct Executive staff to further enforce existing laws.
- Power to extend pardons and/or clemencies for federal crimes, even if based on personal preferences or biases.
Of these seven above bullet-points, at least six (6) former Presidents abused no less than five of these seven Executive powers. Many of these abuses happened because of domestic and foreign events. As a result, the Presidency (and his closest staff) seized the opportunity or opportunities to garner popular, public and political support even though the reactions or counter-measures might not have been legally Constitutional in hindsight, or at the time. Unfortunately, the principle of full Executive transparency has become a dying or dead art at the expense of the American people, their trust, and reproach of the Presidential Office. Two points and cases: 1) the end of Nixon’s 5-years, and 2) followed by Trump’s only term in office. Most everyone is familiar with Nixon’s criminal behavior, but at the end of the January 6th Committee’s Investigations & Hearings, they referred to the Department of Justice four criminal cases to pursue:
- Obstruction of an Official Proceeding – in violation of Section 1512(c)(2) of Title 18 of the U.S. Code.
- Conspiracy to Defraud the United States – in violation of Section 371 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code.
- Conspiracy to Make a False Statement – in violation of Section 1001 of Title 18.
- ‘Incite,’ ‘Assist’ or ‘Aid and Comfort’ an Insurrection – in violation of Section 2383 of Title 18 of the U.S.C.
Whether a former United States President is actually indicted and sentenced for clear and obvious crimes based upon overwhelming evidence, remains to be seen. Fingers crossed.
Many 1787 Philadelphia delegates and most all Founders were very troubled by just how much power lay at the disposal of the Oval Office and its potential for abuses of executive actions. And this was in 1787! Today’s POTUS is above and beyond more robust than the Founders could have possibly imagined. To say they’d be deeply disturbed by today’s Presidential, forgiving latitude would be a gross understatement. At that time, delegates wanted an abusive President to be removed by a majority of legislators or to serve the desires of Congress, at the very least collaborate in amenable, reasonable ways. This is no longer the case and hasn’t been for over four decades or more. FDR was by far and away a vastly more powerful President than James Madison or Dwight Eisenhower. And Franklin Roosevelt was given his powers of great latitude by Congress because of widespread public fears brought about by the Great Depression and World War II. FDR even sought to expand his incredible latitude in office, particularly in his second-term due to America’s fears, and indirectly their naïvety of the office’s powers under the U.S. Constitution.
In 1936 and 1937 Roosevelt gained a supermajority of both the House and Senate for his Democratic Party due in large part from his large margin of victory in the popular-vote during his reelection. It is this evolution of political changes in the relationships between Branches, plus their influences upon Congress that set it all in motion. In those desperate times, the original intent and spirit of what the Founders wished was not a going concern by any means.
During the country’s 19th-century expansion west (Manifest Destiny & following), into the southern hemisphere and Central & South America, and around the western Pacific Ocean beyond Hawaii, past Presidents sought increased latitude and powers. They most often achieved them by wealthy, elite support from individuals and political organizations—what we might call SuperPAC’s today.
Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln—three of America’s strongest presidents—defied perceived constitutional restraints on their offices to meet what they saw as America’s political needs. Their decisions often were popularly ratified (in retrospect, sometimes unfortunately so).george william van cleve, “making a new American constitution,” Maroon Bells Press. Kindle Edition.
Well after Roosevelt’s New Deal, the general public supported a vigorous American President, especially during hard, tumultuous times. Much of these decades after the New Deal have been positive. For instance, social welfare, which includes benefits we now take for granted, came into existence like funding for public education, healthcare, air-travel safety and regulations, and retirement (Social Security Benefits) as well as magnificent national parks and wilderness lands. But many Constitutional scholars and proponents of a robust Presidential office are increasingly worried that the White House has become or surpassed being imperial in nature.
Renown intellectual, American historian and social critic Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., is often quoted in the wake of Lyndon B. Johnson’s and Richard M. Nixon’s presidencies, that the office now behaves far too imperialistic. This was no more evident than during the Vietnam conflict and related military offenses such as the clandestine invasion of Cambodia which took the Vietnam conflict into further expansion, loss of life, and exponential drainage of American resources. And then there was Watergate. Nixon was caught in rampant criminal behavior and abuse of presidential power. Despite Congress passing several laws soon after, intended to limit presidential abuse, most experts of The Hill believe they are feeble symbolic laws with no bite. Perfect example? The 1973 War Powers Act.
This Senate Resolution #440 was intended to restrain the Commander in Chief’s rash, and/or reckless abuse of America’s military might and the lives therein. However, in the end the resolution left broad sometimes vague discretion to the president allowing the use of military force as the immediate choice. As co-chairs of the Miller Center War Powers Commission in July 2008, both former Secretaries of State James Baker (to H.W. Bush) and Warren Christopher (to Bill Clinton), as they had testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March 2008, they and the committee unanimously recommended changes to the War Powers Act. It sought to encourage much more significant consultation between the Executive Branch and Congress in times of foreign hostility. And on a footnote, Baker and Christopher represented both political parties; a bipartisan recommendation.
But due to the Constitution’s ambiguity coupled with an inefficient weaker Congress, if anything has transpired since FDR’s huge latitudes, the President’s imperial power has been allowed to continue if not grow. As a result, this expansion raises serious questions about 1) national security lying in the hands of one office, and 2) the critical concept and application of “Separation of Powers.” It is here that Americans and their modern politicians have lost their way and strayed.
[The Congress shall have power] …To declare War, grant letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning captures on Land and Water; …article I, section 8, clause 11 — u.s. constitution, federal convention of 1787
On this section and clause regarding the Commander in Chief’s war powers, I am unsure how much more it could be crystal clear. Seriously. The Constitution establishes explicitly the separation of Congress’ means of declaring war and the sitting President’s intentions or actions with the nation’s armed forces and (18th-century) militia. Why is this? It would seem to be a no-brainer, but for the sake of factual information, the explicit purpose of the Separation of Powers principle is this: making war undeniably puts great risks upon our nation’s resources and our military families for several generations to follow. The Founders understood this profoundly. They even had their own immediate and/or extended family, flesh and bone give their own limbs and livelihoods in past or present wars. Congress is supposed to be a safety measure, a hedge against rash reactions by a President. Never did the core Founding Fathers imagine a president—no matter how adept—should have the unilateral decision to enter or manipulate the U.S. into a foreign conflict. That would border on or define unchecked imperial authority, something the Founders witnessed first-hand all too often in their lives.
Be that as it may, the question remains: In modern America, particularly during the 20th-century, has this Constitutional principle been clear and unequivocal, especially in light of the Second Iraqi War and post-9/11 regarding the Taliban in Afghanistan? And keep in mind that Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan the majority of his 13-year escape and concealment from U.S. forces and agencies, not in Afghanistan.
President James K. Polk in 1846 went looking for a war with Mexico, which he had always favored, for increased American commerce and economic expansion of American businesses and their business moguls. In the 77-years since the end of World War II many analysts and critics of Washington, D.C. feel Congress has relinquished its Constitutional duty to oversee and prevent unilateral military actions by a single man, an imperialistic president.
Another recent example. In 2019 both chambers of Congress voted to block U.S. sales of military weapons to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. for their initiated war in Yemen. Essentially this conflict is America’s and two Presidential administrations: Obama’s and Trump’s. In July of 2019, however, Trump vetoed three congressional resolutions to stop weapons sales and would have stopped the slaughter of over 250,000 Yemen civilians at the time. But Trump went even much further. He audaciously declared the conflict an “emergency” to bypass Congress all together, speeding up the sales and export of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.
But Trump was simply following a long precedent of Congressional abdication and irresponsibility within the Constitutional principle of checks-and-balances. Today, Congress mostly “passes the buck” to the President’s discretion—i.e. to be the possible fall-guy rather than lose their own opulent, long-term salaries and pensions. And yet still, the removal by impeachment of a dictatorial, imperial president requires a supermajority vote. Congressional funding cutoffs for irrational, high-risk military actions abroad can simply be vetoed or ignored by presidents, all essentially legal under our 18th-century Constitution.
In his 1961 farewell speech, President Dwight Eisenhower had this to say about the Cold War arms race with the Soviet Union, a confounding, necessary(?) evil:
A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be might, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. . . . American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. . . . This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. . . .Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. . . . In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.Dwight d. eisenhower, january 17, 1961 — transfer of power address to elected president john f. kennedy
Today, the weapons of the 21st-century can destroy the planet or cripple one or two continents in a few hours or a day. Presuming it is indeed a “necessary evil,” should the unilateral power and decision rest with one office, one man, in one moment? As our modern Constitution stands right now with an ineffective or spineless Congress, yes, one president can indeed cause the extermination of the planet, in part or in whole. Think about that.
The United States has consistently accounted for between one-third and forty percent of all world military spending. The United States’ defense budget has increased roughly 50-percent during that period, to 600 billion dollars per year or more in 2011 dollars.council on foreigh relations, trends on military spending, july 25, 2014, https://www.cfr.org/report/trends-us-military-spending – accessed jan. 29, 2023
Over the last thirty-five years specifically, the U.S. has become a country of excessive exercises of military production and bullying around the globe despite its incessant rhetoric of freedom and democracy for all. To much of the world we resemble the brutal Roman Empire than we do what the original Founding Fathers intended to create.
This current American condition begs two enormously important questions:
- As with very successful, long established private corporations and their demands/requirements of new job-applicants, does the U.S. have a Constitutional protocol for choosing the best president and congress-people that places the candidates into office with the utmost qualifications and experience to comfortably manage the most potent military force in known history and the ever complex foreign policy it coherently demands? — And…
- Do those federal elected officials have the reasonable political incentives to execute those controls over the highly influential political donations of the American “military-industrial complex” of which Eisenhower referred?
The answers to these two questions are pretty obvious. No.
In the last 30-years of U.S. presidents only one president has had any level of military experience in his background: George W. Bush. And if it matters in a modern, ineffective, spineless Congress, the number of veterans elected by American voters into the House of Representatives or the Senate has been in a sharp decline since 1973 (see Table above). To be fair, many observers and critics of presidential administrations would conclude that George W. Bush’s military “experience” wasn’t really legitimate experience—simply the part-time Texas Air National Guard; not a combat unit in the least. This sharp decline is or should be of critical concern to all American voters. But remarkably it is not, as is evidenced by the popular vote over the said 30-years. And over the past thirty years what does our nation have to show, factually, to boast about regarding the enormous expenditures of tax-payer dollars and more importantly irreplaceable American or human lives in undebated wars, quasi-wars or conflicts the last several decades?
Congress: The Rotted Branch
How many times in your memory do you remember our U.S. Congress being stuck in a stalemate, a standoff or shutdown, and completely unable to proceed with legislating, debating, and passing beneficial laws for the American people? Care to guess? Do you think it might be three or four? Perhaps six or seven times in your lifetime? Less? A lot more?
Well, that was a bit of a trick question. Why? Because it depends on precisely how one defines stalemate or shutdown and paralyzed. The most recent total paralysis was of course the selection of a new House Speaker in January 2023. Without an elected majority House Speaker, both branches of Congress would come to a halt causing a ripple-effect of havoc upon federal legislation and representatives therein unable to offer daily services to constituents. Staff there would lose their pay and benefits. That’s just the first ripple-effect after a few days. Listing all the potential collapses throughout our federal government would require another 3-thousand to 4-thousand words to explain and perhaps another week of drafting for me. Let’s skip that dreadful scenario, shall we.
According to Wikipedia and its “Government Shutdowns” page, since 1980 there have been no less than ten (10) collapses of one or more days. But Wikipedia wisely conditions the list saying “This list includes only major funding gaps which led to actual employee furloughs within federal departments of the US government. It does not include funding gaps that did not involve shutdowns of government departments…” The complex contemporary issues surrounding and influencing the rising paralysis of Congress involves every major federal debt and budgets, including but not limited to public debt, military budgets, taxation, the economy, unemployment, and healthcare reform to name just six facets of multitudes.
Like it or not, our 18th-century U.S. Constitution contributes substantially to this chronic paralysis, it is not the usual rhetoric of party officials, ideologies, and uncompromising congress-members bent on their personal futures as we are often told. It isn’t just controversies over redistribution of wealth or equality. One example is on more extensive gun-control regulations. Opinion polls the last five to ten years have repeatedly shown that around 80% — 90% of Americans support universal background checks for all weapons sales. Very reasonable background checks and further red-flag laws on sale-requirements are without a doubt constitutional simply for general public safety. Yet sadly, over the last 30-40 years Congress has generally been apathetic, indifferent to act on such gun-control public safety issues despite the widespread support of them, particularly by school districts and places of worship!
What has been the true price for Americans to have a chronically ineffective, often paralyzed, 18th-century stifled Congress? How many school students and teachers like Uvalde, TX? How many church-goers like the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX? How greedy is the congressional beast versus its modern, perceived benefits? Can you count them all?
As of 2018, three-hundred (300) congressional members received $75,528 per annum salaries, plus Secondary Security Income (SSI), outstanding health benefits, and very generous pensions. Another additional 300 retired members—also with pensions and great health coverage—received an average $41,208 per year without SSI, but they are entitled to receive and most often draw it as well. All in all, as of 2019 the congressional pensions are between 2.5 to 4-times as much as the average American receives from their lifetime of hard work in Social Security! There’s more appalling news-facts about our present and past congressional members…
American legal scholar, political critic, and acclaimed academic Lawrence Lessig, discovered that more than four-hundred (400) present and former members of Congress have created campaign fundraising schemes, known as Leadership PAC’s, that provide them lucrative travel anywhere, 4-5 star meals, and entertainment extravagances which all fall into an IRS category of “discretionary non-taxable compensation.” And as of today, it is Constitutional and legal for them to live such lifestyles. By the way, for some perspective, the 2022 national poverty-line or wages/income considered impoverishing in the U.S. was $13,590/year for a single person, and for a household of three people it was $23,030 per year. Compare that to the congress-member who draws an average minimum of $116,736 per year (75,528 + 41,208) and often much, much more.
Just in 2014 Leadership PAC’s raked in over $50-million dollars. Today the totals are significantly higher. Sit down, it gets even more appalling. Each of 435 House Representative members receive over $1-million in office expenses alone. These packages usually compensate about 12-15 full-time staff associates; bigger state-members receive more than $1-million. The (sole?) purpose of each member’s “office expenses” is to undoubtedly guarantee that their boss, the House Representative member, keeps their job after the next election.
For the fiscal year 2020, a very conservative estimate of the total budget for the Congress, including all ancillary agencies such as the Capitol Police Force, was roughly $5-billion dollars, or approximately $10-million per House member (citation).
By almost any middle-class American standard, congress-members live a very comfortable, opulent life, both at work and home.
Where else can someone draw a salary of $174,000; have a staff of several dozen catering to their (and their family’s) every whim; enjoy special access to information and resources at the highest levels of government; forge lucrative relationships with people of immense power and influence; take taxpayer-funded jaunts to all corners of the country and the world; and command constant attention from the local and national media—all in exchange for producing little in the way of tangible outcomes?tim alberta – chief political correspondent, politico magazine, sept. 27, 2019
Why would any congress-member want to leave such an easy, undemanding office job unless retiring into a lap-of-luxury? What’s better for them to stay is that 1) voters cannot place term-limits on their service thanks to 2) the 1995 Supreme Court decision of U.S. Term Limits, Inc. versus Thornton, which determined (rightly so) that such limits would be unconstitutional, according to our 18th-century Constitution. Consequently, in the following 28-29 years and the three decades ending in 2009, more than 85% of all members of Congress who ran for reelection were comfortably re-elected. Why? Because there is little incentive for new younger blood to run for those congressional seats. For the last 10-years little has changed in this congressional picture and setup.
Does it come as any shock that the average tenure in office of congressional members is now nearing quadruple what it was in the 1800’s and tripled in the 1900’s? Far too many non-competitive House seats have created very well-paid, time-serving, lifetime serving careerists, not citizen-legislatures serving their district of Americans. Today, only about 15% to 12% of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives (HoR) are actually contested. According to Tim Groseclose and Jeff Milyo, “Buying the Bums Out: What’s the Dollar Value of a Seat in Congress?” (Stanford, CA: Stanford University, Graduate School of Business, 1999), most members of Congress do not intentionally give up their seat unless offered somewhere in the neighborhood of $1- and $5-million in 2019 dollars, and this depends on whether or not their seat will stay within their own partisan-party-loyal guidelines. As a congressperson once put it, “Capitol Hill is a farm league for K Street” lobbying interests.
As a result of these de-incentivized, ineffective congressional work conditions, widespread gerrymandering, by both major parties, protects their incumbent officials against competition, playing a huge role in keeping lifetime(?) careerists in the HoR. Imagine how intimidating this challenge is for a young newcomer. Think of how this kills any hope of a third-party, like Independents or Green-party supporters receiving representation on Capitol Hill—this, despite that approximately 40% — 43% of voters in the U.S. are Independents.
Therefore, with these types of incentives for current, career congress-members why risk losing a life of luxury and very generous pension and retirement in your 70’s or 80’s? Congress-careerists are nurtured to avoid taking responsibility for key (controversial) issues that might jeopardize their re-election. Some simply don’t show up to vote, others play all sides of a big issue or dole out generic lip-service to the media and their constituents. Then this dodging of accountability leads to frequent inactivity or snails-pace bureaucracy, or total gridlock in Congress. And most congress-members have mastered the art of of shifting perceived responsibility or blame onto other Branches of government, like the President, especially if the White House resident is traditionally opposite/opposed to their own party.
Probably one of the most historic blunders and deadly disasters of an American partisan, broken, ineffective Congress to effectively improve our intelligence communities, both domestic and globally, and despite many strong proposals to reform procedures and protocols between intelligence agencies… happened on Sept. 11th, 2001. These findings have been confirmed and reconfirmed in many later investigative studies, examinations, official reports, and forensic analysis of events and intelligence leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center Towers, the Pentagon, and the reaction of passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Somerset County, PA.
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Due to the length and time it required me to draft and write this Part 3 of A New U.S. Constitution, I have decided to pickup the serious problem of Congressional Bicameralism in Part 4. It will also include just how utterly powerful our Supreme Court has, by default of Congress, become today—SCOTUS has begun indirectly legislating laws for America when it was originally the explicit, expressed duty of the Congress’ job-description laid forth by our Founding Fathers! That will be Part 4. I hope you will join me then. And my apologies again for the delay in Part 3. Thank you all kindly for your patience and understanding. 🥰
Live Well – Love Much – Laugh Often – Learn Always
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