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SECTION 232 – ANOTHER PRELUDE TO DICTATORSHIP

August 12, 2018

SECTION 232 – ANOTHER PRELUDE TO DICTATORSHIP?

Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 is being misused by a power-hungry president not for the purposes for which it was designed. Section 232 of this Cold War act passed in 1962 in an era when school children were cowering under their desks and the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis were in bloom gave the president the authority to take charge of tariffs against trading partners if national security is threatened. The Constitution gives all trade authority to the Congress but the Congress in 1962 delegated their tariff authority to the president under this section of the act if national security is involved, apparently for the reason that congressional enforcement of their constitutional powers was felt to be cumbersome and time-consuming and would take too long to respond to an emergency where national security was at stake. National security then, unlike now, was at hair-trigger edge.

One of the problems with implementation of Section 232 now some 56 years later is that it is the president who determines how “national security” is to be defined, an important feature especially since there is apparently no appeal from such determination. Predictably, there is dissent within the Republican governing party of “free traders” as to how to rein in our wannabe dictator president in his power-grabbing use of tariffs as instrumentalities of foreign policy, routinely using tariffs for purposes never contemplated by the Congress 56 years earlier. He is using this out of date authority to unilaterally impose tariffs on trading partners based on whim and caprice because they did not do what he wanted them to do in matters both related and unrelated to trade, fair or otherwise (e.g., doubling the tariffs on Turkish imports for their failure to release an American pastor, a job for the State Department, not a power-mad president in appealing to his base, and a matter totally unrelated to national security). Turkey is not massing troops at our border nor are they preparing ICBMs for our cities. Turkey is our NATO ally, for heaven’s sake!

Thus Republican senators Flake and Corker were instrumental in having the Senate pass a weak and non-binding resolution last month telling the president that Congress needs to be more involved when tariffs are imposed. (Please, dear leader, let us participate in our constitutional duty. Pretty please!) Speaker Ryan, predictably, was against the resolution for the announced reason that he didn’t want to hamstring the president in trade negotiations but for the unannounced reason that he doesn’t want to raise the ire of this wannabe dictator. Section 8 of Article 1 of the Constitution gives the absolute power in the regulation of trade to the Congress, not the president, and it is time for the Congress to reclaim their constitutional duties from this tweeting president who doesn’t know the difference between trade and foreign policy – and isn’t interested in learning in his quest for power.

I have a bipartisan solution to the power-grabbing antics of this wannabe dictator who seizes and exploits every opportunity given to him by a Congress to expand his executive reach, and it goes far beyond a weak-kneed resolution pleading with the king who has only delegated power and not constitutional power in matters of trade, and it is this: The Congress should have staff research and identify every delegation of power given to a president under any statute or division thereof, bundle them together, and repeal them in one omnibus act. In view of Trump’s instincts for all power and since continuation of our democracy is up for grabs, he should be limited to the exercise of those powers clearly delineated to presidents in the Constitution. The Congress can delegate their powers to a future president on a case by case basis, and retract such delegation at their pleasure when, for instance, he or she misuses such delegated powers contrary to the public good.

To the complaint that this would “hamstring” the president from performing his constitutional duties I note that trade is not his constitutional duty; it is solely the constitutional duty of the Congress, and if the Congress can delegate the authority to conduct such power it can retract it en masse, appoint a commission to attend to such matters and do its constitutional duty “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes.”

Enough of pretty please resolutions – it is time to grab the bull by the horns in this misallocation of power and save our teetering democracy in the process, and fear of a “Constitutional Crisis?” We’re already in one, so let’s do the necessary. Our democracy is truly at stake.       GERALD        E

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