Although both the cinema and the news media regularly depict the President of the United States as all powerful, Mr. Tips discusses whether the American President is really the most powerful man in the World. With the recent election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States and the departure of Barack Obama from that office, now is the perfect time to explore that unique American political structure of institutions intended by its Founders to limit the growth of the Federal government and prevent it from ever becoming as tyrannical as Great Britain had seemed to be in the late 18th Century.The political institutions of the United States were created with the then-recent experiences of the Revolutionary War in mind. The goal was to prevent the Federal government from ever becoming all-powerful and especially to prevent the Head of State from ever becoming a dictator with King-like powers.

After a brief experiment with a decentralized government structure that gave virtually all powers to the 13 States, those same States adopted the United States Constitution in 1787.

Using both Britain and France as a loose guide, this Constitution created three branches of the Federal Government: the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary. The Executive branch (the Presidency) was intended to be the least powerful of the three.

“Checks and Balances” – Powers were divided among the three branches so that each one would serve to “check” or stop the unwarranted growth of power of the other two branches. In addition, powers were reserved to the State governments and individual citizens as a check and balance on the power of the Federal government in Washington, D.C.

To add another layer of protection from government power, the Constitution staggered the terms of office of all three branches: Members of the House of Representatives are elected every 2 years, Presidents every 4 years, Senators every 6 years, and Judges are appointed for Life.

An “Electoral College” (now consisting of 538 electors) was also put in place to be the actual electors of the President so that a “tyranny of the mob” would never result from direct voting by citizens for any presidential candidate. This institution has the effect of ensuring that big cities with large populations do not dictate who will become President.

As well, the Press and internet news services may also serve to check the powers of not only the President but the other government branches. As ownership of the press and other mainstream media has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of the powerful few – many of whom are the same who help select the President – more of the checking power on the Presidency has shifted to the “new” media of the internet.

To become President of the United States, however, costs large sums of money.  Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign in 2016 spent no less than $1.4 billion! Donald Trump’s campaign spent less, but it was still approximately $923 million.  Both amounts mean that the Presidents who are elected are invariably in debt to special interest groups and large donors who back their candidacies.

So, in the year 2017, the U.S. Constitution and the Legislative and Judiciary branches weakly limit the powers of the U.S. President, who increasingly makes use of “Executive Orders” to ignore the wishes of those two other branches. However, the individuals who placed the President and other elected officials into their positions as well as the huge inertia of an out-sized and mammoth Federal government (with an entrenched bureaucracy) that is very difficult to change also greatly restrict the true powers of the President.  Indeed, many argue that the U.S. President is nothing more than a puppet for those powerful people who really decide the policies spoken by the President.

 



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