The USA is having a presidential election at the moment, you’ve probably heard a bit about it. But how much power does the leader of the free world actually have?
Well, according to Freakonomics, they have a lot of power.
Like a scary amount.
Which is extra scary when we’re facing the very real possibility of Donald Trump being the next US president. For many the idea of Trump wielding power over one of the most powerful economies and armies in the world is more than a little unsettling.
Of course, Hillary’s reputation isn’t exactly much better.
It’s commonly assumed that the president of the US is just a figurehead and that there are lots of checks and balances in place to ensure they can’t go too crazy. After all, America has a constitution very carefully designed by the founding fathers to avoid any kind of absolute power being wielded over the American people.
However, Freakonmoics Radio spoke to legal scholar Eric Posner about how much things had changed since the constitution was written in 1787:
The founders could not possibly have imagined that the president would become as powerful as he has. I mean, our presidency has completely transformed.
Ah, slightly worrying. Posner argues that, despite the American political system being designed to limit presidential power, successive presidents have found ways around the restraints. Especially in times of crisis such as during wars, recessions, and most recently wars on terror.
Eric Posner makes the point that every ‘great’ American president actually broke the rules and overreached their role in order to achieve their greatness.
The law actually prevents presidents from doing great things. These old laws are in place, but the great presidents are the ones who basically push it aside so that they can do something great.
Freakonomics presenter Stephen Dubner clarifies the point:
The presidents that generally judged as great — Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan — are generally the “presidents who most frequently tread on constitutional norms.
The problem is that each ‘great’ president ignored certain rules to get things done, then successive presidents have used that rule breaking as a precedent to also break the rules in the same way.
Each time a new president finds a new way to get a little more power for the office they take a tiny step closer to being unstoppable.
A tiny step closer to dictatorship.
This has been happening with US presidents for hundreds of years so the whole system has slowly transformed. Meaning the president now has far less constraint on their ability to wage war, make laws – or ignore them.
When asked what future presidents can do when they get into power Eric Posner responds:
[They] can do what [they] want.
A chilling prospect with two incredibly unpopular and divisive candidates vying for the top job.