The political climate today provides historians a rare opportunity: teach Constitutional principles to those who usually have no interest whatsoever.
Often is heard how our founding principles no longer apply, how outdated they have become. Nothing could be further from the truth and it’s important to highlight examples as soon as they are evident.
The Paris Climate Agreement, just discarded, is one. “How could he do this!” critics screamed,
Doesn’t Trump understand the efforts that it took to get almost 200 nations worldwide to join the accord. Doesn’t he understand that this will cause the United States to lose our leadership position, not to mention the embarrassment he brings us?
Did he not understand the world was counting on the United States to uphold the agreement endorsed by his predecessor? How can we, as a nation, be taken seriously or even trusted, if we vacillate? Does he not understand that this issue represents the biggest threat to our national security today?
These complaints have been voiced loud and clear. Yet these critics do not understand how our system of government works. If we really wanted the agreement to be permanent, more than a unilateral stroke of a pen needed to happen in the first place.
The founders were concerned about placing too much power in the executive. The president was not to be the sole arbiter of our foreign policy. As a matter of principle, they charged the legislative branch with the bulk of foreign affairs. Certainly, the President has power vested in him by the Constitution in this realm but the preponderance was granted the legislature. Specifically, in dealing with treaties, policy was dependent on Senate approval.
This was thought to be prudent as members of the Senate were to serve for longer, six years, creating a sense of stability that would not exist in the lower house´s two-year election cycle. The statesmen in the Senate would provide the nation with consistent foreign policies and curtail extreme changes wrought by incoming administrations.
This concept was vital to our Founders. The then-new United States of America had to prove ourselves to the onlooking skeptical countries of the world. That task involved showing a steady, ship-of-state consistent in our dealings with nations abroad. The seasoned statesmen of the Senate in partnership with the President were counted upon. That was — and still is — the law of the land.
The principle behind the law is explained above. When the law is broken there are consequences that are not too difficult to foresee. Our Founders understood this. However, we are so wrapped up into what we want we don’t care how we get there. Unintended consequences follow.
The Senate has abdicated its power. Obama carelessly committed the United States to an agreement not officially ratified. No one seemed too concerned at the time. The Senate didn’t want to tackle the issue, as it would be criticized if it took a stance either way. Senators, unwilling be targets of attack, were all too happy to let Obama do what he did.
We now learn the consequences of not adhering to the Constitution. Just what the Founders told us would occur, if we didn’t heed their advice, has occurred. Big surprise. A President, who knew better than to unilaterally bind us, did it anyway. Maybe he was relying on his successor to continue in his extra-Presidential powers and hoped the passage of time would make this a de-facto, ratified treaty. But, because President Obama’s successor happened to disagree with him, we now have the vacillation in foreign policy about which we were warned.
Of course, it costs us on the world stage.
It costs us in credibility. It costs us in reliability. It costs us in stability. It costs us in consistency. The U.S. becomes perceived as a “fair-weather friend.”
This would not be the case if we functioned according to the Constitution. Because we don’t, considerable harm has been done in relations with many nations and would-be allies on topics well-beyond the Paris accord. The problem? An Executive branch taking on too much power and a legislative branch that has been complacent.
Don’t blame Trump. Blame the Senate for letting it happen. Blame Obama for doing it.
This article is not a debate about the Paris agreement. (Personally, I think it was a disaster and surrendered sovereignty without consensus). “No taxation without representation,” fits the bill here. Why would we agree to be a part of a treaty that has not been vetted by our Senate as the Constitution demands? Why would we as citizens quietly sit by being bound by a “treaty” that we would pay for without the “due process” our Constitution demands? Thankfully, we are not bound by the edicts of a wayward President.
Abdication has been the policy of the legislative branch. It has abandoned great portions of its power to the executive and judicial. From the war powers of the House to the treaty making authority of the Senate, our legislative branch has transformed itself from the most powerful branch of government to the least and, certainly, the least effective.
It has done this for selfish reasons. By not tackling critical issues of the era, our elected point and blame the other two branches for overreach while they cower behind walls of indecision, leaving a vacuum that the other branches are happy to fill.
In this case we see the law: The Senate is supposed to be working with the President to make and ratify Treaties.
The breaking of the law: Obama making unilateral treaties with little if no kickback from the Senate
The consequences of breaking the law: Wide vacillating foreign policy, loss of credibility, feathers ruffled at home and abroad,
We would be better off if the President knows his place and stayed within the bounds of power authorized in the Constitution. We would be better off if the Senate did its job in making treaties.
Maybe, the Founders knew what they were talking about — and it’s time to listen.