Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Imperial Presidency. . .

The attempt by President Biden to mandate vaccinations for companies which employ more than 100 is but one of a whole string of efforts over the years to govern not by legislation or compromise or consensus but by fiat.  Although in this case it is a Democrat, Republicans are also guilty of using the power of the presidential pen to sign mandates or executive orders for things they either do not want to wait for Congress to debate and vote upon or things they believe will not be approved by Congress.  The use of such presidential reach was far less common only a few presidents ago than it has been recently.  One of the first things a new president does is reverse the executive orders of his predecessor and so it becomes a pendulum swing for the rules that govern how much of the government does its business.  In the end, however, no matter how effective this procedure might be, it is unhealthy for the democracy and its institutions and calls into question the unique checks and balances put in place by our founding fathers.

While some complain about the imperial presidency, the complaints seem to bounce back and forth between parties.  The party out of power complains while they do not have their own person in the oval office and seems inclined to overlook things when they do.  But the cycle of presidential orders, mandates, and directions has escalated to the point where the debate on an imperial presidency is no longer frivolous. Furthermore, it shows no sign of abating especially in view of the closely divided Congress and Senate.  While some insist that this is a symptom of the broken and fractured state of affairs within our legislative branch, the whole system was designed to prevent one branch from exercising the kind of imperial or monarchical power that the colonists has just fought against.  It was also designed so that a nation would not tilt radically from one side to another but would be governed by the slower and more deliberate process of consensus in which executive and legislative (and more than a simple majority) would be forced to agree upon a course of action.  But our impatience only mirrors the political, ideological, and social divisions in our population.  So what do we do now?

I do not have the magic answers to this dilemma but I hope that the rather egregious use of executive power hastens the day when we will figure it out.  Conflict and division always extract a high price from a nation -- the consumption of our time, energy, and passion on fostering these divisions and making small advances against the opposition.  All of these come when our attention should be more fully focused on resolving some of the divisions themselves and upon our seeming inability to dialog about many of them with anything but a heated and explosive rhetoric that only further divides.   The rapid pace of social change has not helped us.  As a nation and a people we have had little time to actually process the court advanced rights and legislatively enacted laws that show an abrupt breach with the values that were once nearly universally held.  Furthermore, the pace of this change is not slowing but only increasing.  Technology has had a side effect few foreseen and this has been to put the pedal to the metal on how quickly things can change.  While some in America are debating which pronoun to use, others in American do not even get what this dispute is about.  The divisions between Red and Blue America are being felt within families, business, and entertainment every bit as much in politics.  It is too much.  The very fabric of our being is now stretched almost to the breaking point.  Who we are as a nation, how we view our history, what we hope for in the future, and how we address what is happening around us have left us dazed and confused, anxious and fearful, angry and divided.

Curiously, at the same time we are discussing an imperial presidency, those in Rome might be well served in discussing a monarchical papacy.  For, it seems, that though those on the conservative side of things are generally suspected of behaving as autocrats, the real perpetrators of such tend to be those on the liberal side of things.  Biden has taken it upon himself to mandate what is or should be a personal decision for private employers.  If someone on the other political side had done so, it would have been summarily dismissed as presidential overreach.  In the same way, what Francis did to the permission Benedict had given for the older rite was not a small correction but a wholesale shut down of that rite.  If a pope of another viewpoint had done something similar to the post-Vatican II changes to the mass (never intended or passed by the council itself), the rest of the Roman Catholic Church would have rejected such a move.  Again, the point here is not a single act but the manner in which such an act was thrust upon a nation and a church that makes it imperial.

Instead of addressing the issues, even churches have become tied up into the kind of debates and reflect the kind of divisions the rest of our society is suffering.  It is not politics to address the morality of the way we address life issues (from its natural beginning to its natural end) nor is it politics to address the challenges of reinventing marriage and family or casting the whole institution aside.  It is not politics to challenge definitions of gender and the primacy of sexual desire that have nothing in conflict with God's creative order and His Scriptural pattern.  But too often we in the church act as if we are speaking politics instead of truth and doctrine.  In the end, our people hear us being political because that is the only way they hear anything today.  This is the fault of weak or non-existent catechesis in which doctrine is one person wide and deep and truth gives way to feelings.  If we in the Church expect to influence our people with a Biblical ideal, we had better do our homework in preparing our people to hear the Word and to be judged by that Word.  Or else it is just politics, power, and control.  Meanwhile the imperial presidency assumes more and more control and authority over us and over every aspect of our lives.

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