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Trump Attacks Democracy

Written By Kenneth Brooks on 04-15-2017

President Trump’s missile attack on Syria without consent of Congress also attacked American democracy. President Trump created a constitutional crisis when he seized the powers the Constitution granted Congress to declare war.  Members of Congress worsened the crisis when they failed to reprimand Trump officially. The Constitution is clear on this matter.  U.S. Constitution Article 1, Section 8 orders, “The Congress shall have power to declare war.”

The framers of the Constitution created a constitutional republic or democracy with a federal government divided into three branches—the Legislative or Congress; the Executive headed by the President; and the Judiciary headed by the Supreme Court. It delineated the duties and powers of each branch to ensure the separation of federal government powers. 

James Madison describes how President Trump's seizing the Legislative branch powers to declare war poses an extreme danger to Americans’ liberty.

“The accumulation of all power, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” – James Madison—a framer and approver of the Constitution—(Federalist Papers 47).

". . . The power to declare war, including the power of judging the causes of war, is fully and exclusively vested in the legislature . . . the executive has no right, in any case, to decide the question, whether there is or is not cause for declaring war." James Madison  (1793.)

George Washington (framer and approver): "The constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject and authorized such a measure." (1793.)

Alexander Hamilton explains the difference between the President’s powers enumerated in the Constitution and those of King. "The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. . . . It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first General and Admiral of the Confederacy; while that of the British king extends to the declaring of war and the raising and regulating of fleets and armies, -- all of which by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain (belong) to the legislature." (The Federalist, 69, 1788.)

When the Constitution granted Congress the power to declare war, it set out a procedure for declaring war that involved all the people's elected federal representatives. The President makes the case to the Congress of the need for war. Then, the two bodies of Congress, 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 members of the Senate, decide if circumstances warrant a war declaration. Nobody who values liberty and understands war’s infringement on liberty in victory or defeat would accept a less democratic procedure. Therefore, one would expect that Congress members would ignore political partisanship on this issue and that all members of Congress would agree to an immediate hearing to restore their sole power to declare war. I would expect widespread protest by the American people against Senators and Representatives who so far have failed to complete this duty.

Authoritarian governments display a strong central power that subordinates individual freedoms without accountability. In contrast, America’s Constitution excludes rights retained by the people, individual liberty, and human rights from the government’s domain. The people retained the power to declare war by the votes of their elected representatives in Congress. When President Trump seized the power of Congress to declare war, his actions were as harmful to the principles of American democracy as a violation of the people’s other rights protected by the Constitution. 

Trump’s behavior sets a precedent of executive authoritarianism that violates the republican principle of the separation of powers among the branches of the federal government set out in the Constitution. History shows the likelihood that he or a future president will continue encroaching into other areas of Congress authority if it does formally censure him. Unless Congress acts now, the federal Legislative branch will eventually become a mere puppet of an authoritarian President.

Many Americans offer irrational arguments as a legal cover for Trump’s abuse of power instead of vigorously protesting it. One argument is that Trump’s sole intervention into Syrian affairs with a fifty-nine Tomahawk missile attack does not qualify as a war. Therefore, they argue his actions did not invoke the constitutional requirement for Congress to declare war unless it leads to a full-scale armed conflict between the two nations. Some people assert there is a difference between “individual acts of war and full-fledged war,” and that Trump only need the approval of Congress if the initial action resulted in a full war. They make illogical arguments.

The consensus dictionary definition for war is “an armed conflict or encounter between nations.” A U.S. Navy ship’s missile attack against a Syrian military base ordered by the American president was an undeniable act of war.  President Trump’s order for the attack without Congress approval was an indisputable violation of America’s legal procedure for war. Trump’s admission that he ordered the attack for reasons other than a direct threat to the Republic is irrefutable evidence he lacked a legal cause.  

Liberty is the innate right of self-direction by autonomous individuals based on reasoning ability. For thousands of years people struggled to gain and to protect this liberty right from kings, emperors, dictators and others authoritarian rulers who claimed an inherited or divine right to rule. People that value liberty should guard it with zeal being ever watchful for attempts by an elected official or public servant to expand his or her authority outside the limits set by the Constitution and law.  

I find it astounding that so many Americans praise Trump or any president taking over Congress powers to declare war powers. The main result is a fractured U.S. Constitution with a weakened ability to protect Americans against government intrusion on liberty and human rights. They are willing to give Trump a pass, because they believed he acted as the leader of the free world. However, the belief is a contradiction that America is the leader of all other free nations.  Liberty means that all autonomous individuals and sovereign nations have innate right of self-direction based in reasoning. Therefore, free people do not accept other individuals or nations as their leader. They do cooperate in interdependent relationships.

President John Quincy Adams July 4th, 1821 speech perceptively warned of the hazards to Americans’ freedom if they presume this type international role and duty.

"The United States goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is a well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. If the United States took up all foreign affairs, it would become entangled in all the wars of interest and intrigue, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own soul." –

I have compassion for those Syrians that suffered injury from the chemical attack allegedly ordered by their president. I hope the international community can help Syria find a solution to its civil war. However, Americans are reckless that believe that our nation achieves a net positive liberty result from Trump’s violation of the Constitution’s limits on executive power by ordering a missile attack costing 70 million dollars to blow a few holes in the runway and buildings of a Syrian military base.