Is the Presidency the weakest of the three branches of government?

The time since Trump’s occupation of the White House has been instructive for me. I don’t think it hit me before how powerless, at least domestically, a US President is. Trump can’t seem to get anything done at all (not that I’m much bothered by that) and is stymied at every turn by the legislative and judicial branches.

Is the Presidency the least powerful of the arms of government over there or am I reading this wrong?

It depends of how you judge getting things done. The President is the head of the executive branch; that’s the part of the government that’s in charge of doing the things that the other two branches want done. So while Congress and the Supreme Court can essentially give orders, they’re dependent on the executive branch to have those orders carried out. This gives the President a lot of leverage over the other branches of the government.

I would say the judiciary would be the weakest. For the most part, they can’t initiate things. The Executive can launch missile strikes and change the direction of massive government institutions. The Legislative approve positions of power and create laws. The Judiciary only gets to resolve conflicts. I realize that’s an awesome power but they are all appointed and confirmed by the other branches.

Any one of the branches can generally ensure that something does not get done, if they don’t want it to be done. Ensuring that something does get done is much harder, for any of them.

Ha! It depends. If he has both houses, not a chance.

Trump’s party has a majority in both houses and he’s still not getting anything through Congress.

Moved to Great Debates.

Colibri
General Questions Moderator

And while the Supreme Court is officially nonpartisan, a majority of the court was nominated by members of Trump’s party, too. The Republicans have all of the levers of power. Any failure to accomplish anything is squarely on them.

While the Supreme Court has more conservative justices than liberal justices, the lower level federal courts are dominated by judges appointed by Democrats. Since these judges hear the vast majority of federal cases, I think it’s a real stretch to suggest that the judicial branch is in Republican hands.

I think what you are actually witnessing, has far less to do with the basic structure of the Constitutional government overall.

It is instead, the logical result of the majority party having achieved that majority, by only pretending to support or oppose various issues, in order to gain votes for the moment.

In addition, the overall GOP opposed most of Trump’s agenda throughout his campaign, so the fact that they still don’t support it shouldn’t be a surprise. Had the last election resulted in a united and consistent party coming into control of all three branches of government, we would have seen all sorts of things being enacted.

The American political system is based on negotiation and compromise. Trump, despite his self-branding as a master deal maker, is actually really, really bad at both of those things. Put him in the Senate, he’d be just as ineffectual, but only 1% as important.

The power of the executive branch is more of a “soft” power in that it is not directly felt. It is more roundabout in cabinet appointments and judicial appointments (which is huge) and the bully pulpit.

For “hard” power I would suggest it is the veto and commander-in-chief and sole ability to negotiate treaties.

May not sound like much but that is pretty powerful.

That’s mainly because Trump lacks the knowledge and skills needed to be an effective president, though. It says more about the deficiencies of Trump than about the deficiencies of the presidency. If Congress or the Supreme Court were full of Trumps, then Congress or the Supreme Court would also acheive next to nothing.

That’s certainly what the Founding Fathers thought.

On the other hand, so many people for the last several decades practically worship the judiciary, and take judicial pronouncements as Holy Writ, that in many respects the judiciary is the strongest branch. It was the judiciary that rammed nation-wide abortion down our throats; it was various state courts that rammed same-sex marriage down our throats, because the “backward” people and the legislators weren’t making the “right” decisions on the matter. It doesn’t matter how many people protest a court decision; if the all-wise, infallible judges think that a certain thing should be done, they will rule that it must be done, and the cowards in the other two branches will fall all over themselves bowing and scraping to the dust, making obeisance to the court system, even when they disagree with the decision!

You’re a little fixated with the idea of things being rammed down your throat.

The two main strengths of the Supreme Court are judicial review and lifetime appointments. SCOTUS essentially has the final say on any political issue; at least they have the final veto which can’t be overturned. And their lifetimes appointments removes them from electoral pressure.

Their main weakness is that their power is mostly negative. They can’t initiate any action; they can only react to issues.

How do you define power in terms of scientifically observable properties of the physical world? We speak of the “power” of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, but at the end of the day, is power destined to be anything more than a metaphysical concept?

If we are to approach the question like scientists, we need to turn our attention to the notion of power. Political science has made a good effort at a taxonomy of different types of power, but it seems to me the power will ultimately need to be defined in terms of observable human behaviors, which, as far as I can tell, it has not.

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Ugh, I wish that clichéd metaphor would die already. I have a serious bodily phobia about my airways being constricted, going back to early childhood.

I’m so old they taught civics lessons in grade school. Let old granny reminisce for you what that was like, kids: One of the core principles of Americanism they brought us up on, along with democracy and liberty itself, was the system of checks and balances. We had to roleplay in 6th grade civics class, each student representing one branch of government and making arguments why the other two branches should do things their way, and finding out how complicated that can get, but also ultimately stabilizing, as triangular configurations are stabilizing in architecture. We were so thoroughly inculcated with the importance of checks and balances that to see it dismantled now I would feel a large part of the core being of the United States had died. No one branch can be perpetually in the lead and no one branch can be perpetually held back. The stability arises from the need for trading and compromising that is built into the system. Look at the results, during the 228 years of our Constitution, the United States has enjoyed much greater governmental stability than most other countries in the world (apart from that major fuckup around the fourscore-and-some mark).

Youre a Brit, right? It’s important to keep in mind that our system in the US is very unresponsive when compared to other democracies. All those “checks and balances” – they sound a lot less noble when you call them “veto points” – make swift decisive action very hard.

The president has a ton of formal power, which Trump has used to some extent: the appointments power, deploying the armed forces, directing the executive branch. He hasn’t used these well, but that’s on him, not the office.

He also has tremendous informal power that comes from being head of state of the most powerful nation on the planet. He’s squandering that, too, but he could try to use it.