Checks and balances is what makes America great
By Dale Schlundt
Debates, heated arguments, and social tension defined the time period. People were scared of what they had thought was going to be a thing of the past, too much power in the hands of just a limited few. We had all witnessed inequality, power exerted by people that seemed so far removed from us. Perhaps distanced by both proximity and ultimately in ideology. By the time we were finished, we came to a consensus, but one that left certain factions feeling dissatisfied. The aforementioned description could fit numerous contexts in American history, specifically the Revolutionary Era. Illustrating the point that social and political tension is nothing unique or new. Essentially giving us some solace during these times of conflict, as the Framers of the Constitution gave us tools to address these circumstances.
The founders were not remotely close to a united body, yet they all had one thing in common. That is fear. The fear of either mass movements by what they perceived as an uneducated public negatively influencing policy, thus we have the Electoral College. Contrasting that, fear that an excessively limited democratic structure within the republic would turn into an authoritarian entity. Perceived through their lens as being similar to Britain in relation to the colonies. Hence, they framed a structure that distributed power. That system is being put to use in regards to President Trump’s executive order limiting travel and immigration from the certain regions of Middle East. An independent branch of government interpreting the Constitutional validity of another’s policies.
The study of history is based in seeking out change. An aspect of that focus, depending on the area of study, is to conclude if we are progressing or regressing as a society. The discussion of concentrated power was nothing new at the time of the Constitutional Convention. Conflicting ideas among the framers and a lack of specificity as to certain aspects of the judicial branch in the new republic has led us to interpreting such. The precedent of Judicial Review has historically been at the heart of that debate and consequently allows the Supreme Court to influence society to a large degree. Despite the system’s shortcoming throughout history, we are indeed progressing. For instance, who would have thought the Supreme Court would have cited the 14th Amendment, an amendment focused on African American liberties from the latter part of the 19th century, to uphold gay rights in the 21st.
Still, executive orders are typically controversial simply because they can bypass one of those checks, the legislative branch. Let us remember Lincoln’s criticized executive orders during the Civil War, utilizing them in an effort to silence his political critics in the press. Executive orders are within the legal powers of the president and are at times, necessary as well as appropriate. Other times they are called into question. Thus, the judicial process picks up the slack, if you will. Most argue this current debate over travel and immigration has the potential to arrive at the Supreme Court. However, individuals on both sides of this issue should keep in mind the fact that this is part of the American experience. While political tensions rise, it is the debate that promotes growth. Perhaps more significant is that these experiences are nothing new. Let us allow the Framers’ system to interpret the Constitution and applicable legislation, while respecting our fellow Americans regardless of their political affiliation.
Dale Schlundt holds a Master’s Degree in Adult Education with a concentration in American History from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Dale has taught at Northwest Vista College, Our Lady of the Lake University, and is currently a faculty member at Palo Alto College.