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Implications of increased powers of the US executive branch

In the context of elections in the United States, the issue of electoral integrity is receiving increasing attention, and the term “executive aggrandisement” is becoming more and more common – Brookings.

Executive aggrandisement is political science jargon for extending a leader’s power beyond the checks and balances which ensure the unbiased operation of all institutions of government.

The Trump administration and its allies have sought to de-legitimise, disable and politicise independent public service to an unprecedented degree.

Representatives from various departments have been pressured, threatened, and even fired, and independent studies, investigations, and evaluations have been altered to suit the administration’s preferences.

Shortly before the 2020 election, President Trump issued a “Schedule F” executive order designed to give him the authority to fire up to 50,000 career civil servants. Preparations are now underway to continue this consolidation of power under a future Republican president, whether Trump or someone else is elected.

This system jeopardises the functioning of democracy because voters need to have access to objective information on the economy, health care, public spending and all other issues that can influence their votes. Thus, politicians simply cannot be allowed to hide or alter data in favour of their party or to cover up their failures.

In addition, the ability to provide public services or government jobs can become a tool in the hands of the government to undermine the integrity of elections. Making government institutions de facto arms of the ruling party is contrary to the principles of democracy.

Winning one election does not give elected officials the right to change laws to ensure they win the next election. Democracy requires an independent civil service.

The main bulwarks against executive expansion are the legislative and judicial branches, but Congress has unfortunately become increasingly dysfunctional.

This is evidenced by the inability of Republicans to elect a House Speaker for a long time. The legislative branch has proven unable to contain the expansion of the executive branch. Moreover, hyper-partisanship has undermined legislators’ interest in investigating intra-party malfeasance.

At the same time, the powers of the judiciary have expanded noticeably. For example, many very conservative judges have managed to inflict a long string of defeats on the Trump administration.

Trump lost almost 80 per cent of the time, but this was largely due, legal experts say, to the former president’s administration’s disregard for basic aspects of the legal and administrative process.

Scholars, however, anticipate that the Supreme Court would affirm a much broader scope of the president’s civil service powers in the future.

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