President Trump’s leadership in the first month can best be described as weird and unusual. His public behavior and twitter statements have led a lot of folks to ask a basic question: it this behavior continues can Congress, the media and the courts be an effective check to protect our constitutional liberties and preserve our national security? To date the media, the courts, and citizens of all political stripes, and some members of Congress have risen to the challenge with courage and conviction. A free press and the courts can do a lot to preserve our government and way of life. But Congress, on a bipartisan basis, is still the most important institution in government. And it must be the ultimate check on the president guaranteeing that our system of checks and balances works.
Congress must pursue strong, independent and bipartisan oversight of the actions undertaken by the White House and all the cabinet departments. Members of Congress and Senators are the people’s representatives in federal government and it is their absolute duty to provide transparency and oversight to Americans on the actions taken by the federal government. There has been a historic tendency for the level of oversight commitment to change depending on who holds the majority, but rigorous oversight of all presidents by Congress, regardless of party, is needed in order to ensure adherence to our Constitutional principles.
The real issue is that President Trump has not experienced operating in environments where other institutions have equal power to him. As CEO of a company, you are in charge. As President of the United States you have to deal with Congress, the courts, the media all of which are empowered by the Constitution to provide checks and balances. Trump has faced the press before in his real estate business, but he has never experienced a free and often critical, but constitutionally protected press which is not guilty of reporting fake news just because they are probing him in ways that they typically do of elected leaders, especially the president.
He needs to recognize that being criticized by a free press, and being subjected to strong impactful bipartisan congressional oversight is just part of the job. If he can deal with this, he can get much of his agenda implemented and be successful; but if he can't, he will be a failure and it is the American people who will be the real losers. The good news is that the Congress is beginning to initiate robust oversight over his activities, and the free and independent courts and media are performing their roles as well.
I’m not as pessimistic as some. There is still time for the president and his staff to realize that he can’t just run the country like he ran his business empire. Being a public official and running the executive branch is recognizing that you are powerful, but you aren’t the only powerful institution. The more that he does these unusual and abnormal actions, the more incentive Congress will have to investigate his behavior instead of focusing on legislative activities and passing policies like tax reform or infrastructure, President Trump’s stated priorities.
The brilliance of our founders and their vision of government can only exist if the institutions that they created live up to their responsibilities. The courts, the media and now Congress are doing what they are supposed to do when the executive branch goes rogue. Teddy Roosevelt perfected the art of persuasion while he was president over a century ago. He learned that a president does not need to be a bully to use the bully pulpit of the presidency effectively. Trump must learn to deal with the complexities of our system with separation of powers, and learn fast.