A couple of years ago, after President Trump backed out of the Paris Climate Treaty and the Iran Nuclear Deal, I wrote a column for “Historically Speaking,” justifying his actions because those deals had been made by executive orders so could legally be overturned by executive order. At the same time, I argued that modern executive orders such as these went beyond the authority of the president and should be handled by Congress. If you want more proof of the folly of executive orders, on the first day of President Biden’s term, he signed into effect 15 new executive orders, one of which was to reenter the Paris Climate Deal. As with my first article, I am not arguing that we should or should not join with the climate agreement. My argument is about the process. The very fact that Obama can join it, Trump pull us out, then Biden rejoin – all done by one man and the stroke of his pen – goes beyond the scope of power the founders envisioned.
Last time, I cited the Constitution as an example to show how only Congress is authorized to make laws and approve of all treaties. The Paris Accords and the Iran deal are both treaties with foreign nations and hence should fall under the powers of Congress, yet they were not. There is nowhere in the Constitution that explicitly gives presidents power of executive orders; instead, the power is implied from Article II.
Not all executive orders are the same; some are perfectly legitimate. The Supreme Court has said a president can use the power if given authority by a clause in the Constitution or if Congress delegates it. All presidents have issued orders, starting with George Washington. Washington’s first order was that all department heads report to him what was happening in their departments. As head of the Executive Branch as prescribed by the Constitution, Washington had the right to request reports from his departments.
As Commander and Chief, presidents can make decisions about the military. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order. It was done as a military order to hurt the South by taking away their work force. Agree with the idea or not, Biden’s use of an executive order to allow transgenders into the military is legitimate. It falls under his military authority.
Another legitimate use of executive orders is in the enforcement of laws, another duty prescribed to the president. After the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, President Eisenhower issued an order to desegregate schools.
Finally, though not in the Constitution, allowing presidents to act in time of emergency seems legitimate, but only for the duration of the crisis. FDR, who guided the nation through two of the hardest episodes in our history – the Great Depression and WWII, used orders to create the Works Progress Administration and later the Manhattan Project. Under this thinking, any of Biden’s executive orders issued to stop COVID have some validity.
The second part of the Supreme Court’s ruling of when Congress delegates is more problematic. Who’s at fault is too long for this article but starting in the Progressive Age and expanded during FDR and the Cold War, presidents little by little have taken away (and Congress has let them) the primary task of Congress which is to make laws. Whereas orders were meant for executing presidential duties, many are now used to bypass Congress to legislate. Again, I am not arguing for or against any of Biden’s orders, but his executive orders on immigration and transgendered athletes are establishing law and should be dealt with by Congress. It has been argued to me that presidents need to act on these issues because either Congress refuses to or moves too slowly. While I understand, the Constitution does not grant the president legislative powers in cases where the Congress is too slow, refuses to act, or cannot get enough votes to pass its legislation.
When the Founders gathered in Pennsylvania to create our governing document, their most difficult task was creating an executive branch. The other two branches were easy by comparison, but America had just broken away from a monarch and was not in a hurry to recreate a new one. In fact, the first national government, The Articles of Confederation, did not even have an executive branch.
When creating the Executive Branch, the man who inspired the Founders’ thinking was the French philosopher Montesquieu, who argued the idea of “trias politica” or “separation of powers.” The Founders were scared of creating a strong president, but what Montesquieu argued, and the Founders understood, was that in order to keep the people safe from a tyrannical government the Executive Branch had to be as powerful as the Legislative and Judicial Branches. If not, the Legislative Branch had the power to become tyrannical. Therefore, the Executive Branch had to be strong.
However, none of the Founders ever imagined what the President has become in the 21st Century. No matter if you support or condemn Biden’s orders, which he now holds the record for in his first days, the Founders never envisioned so much raw power in the hands of just one person. It goes against everything they feared and everything Montesquieu taught. Biden needs to be careful. For a man who claimed Trump was a tyrant, Biden has more than doubled the number of Trump’s executive orders for the same amount of time in office.
Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog.
A vaccination decision made
This ‘vaccinate or not to’ vaccination decision has caused division between families, friends, neighbors, and others. This is a message I sent to two of my dearest friend’s requests as to why I got the vaccination.
In no way did I mean that you don’t believe this pandemic is not real.
I also have my beliefs in the Holy Spirit to guide and lead me in my decisions. I have been a rebel for most of my life when it comes to natural health and well-being. I have been able to dodge most of the illnesses that plague us mortals. Eating healthy, exercising, and having a relationship with my creator has blessed me with living a healthy life. To take any shots for anything was always my last resort.
It was not until I turned 60 that my attitude changed. It came during my physical that my trusted doctor laid some harsh facts on me.
He said you have lived a very healthy life, but unfortunately your body is aging. Your systems, as much as you have been taking good care of it, are not running at their max efficiency anymore.
Now you have a choice to make. You can ignore this fact and let nature runs its course, or you can allow me to help you extend its ability to run as efficiently as it can for as long as it can with a good quality of life.
The Flu and Shingles vacs help your immune system to help fight these types of viruses. There will be medicines that I will prescribe that will help your body to heal faster. There will be times that your body will need assistance that will stop the development of other illnesses. He closed by recommending that I continue to follow my health regimen. His job is to let me know what he can recommend for me to do to keep the quality of my life with some assistance at times. He said, of course, it’s my choice which way I want to go.
It was very hard for me to accept this wise counsel, but he was right. I have chosen to follow the doctors’ recommendation. He said to get the Covid vaccine, and I did.
So you can see from this response that I continue to be very guarded on what advice I believe. We are fighting a losing battle as we age and this I cannot deny even though I continue to fight to stay healthy. So I decided that getting the Covid vaccine would give my body the help it needs in fighting this ongoing Covid battle.
We really love you guys. We would not forgive ourselves if we were ever responsible for passing the virus to you.
Front Royal, Virginia
Twenty Years Later
Knowing that the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was fast approaching, I knew I needed to address it. I struggle writing about 9/11 because in many ways it still brings on strong raw emotions and I want to do it justice. For my own history, it is the foremost event and has done more to change this nation during my lifetime than anything else.
While it is a unique event for me, it is not unique historically. I can make many comparisons to other events in our history – JFK’s assassination, Pearl Harbor, the sinking of the Maine, John Brown’s attack at Harper’s Ferry, the attack on Gen. Zachery Taylor at Brownsville, or the first shot fired at Lexington. Historically speaking, each of these events shook the people then as much as 9/11 has shaken me and has affected the population in different ways. As I consider the major life-changing events in our history, it is interesting that most led to war but yet not all united us the way 9/11 did.
We often think that in times of great crisis the nation comes together, yet history has shown in its biggest moments that that is not true. In 1775, colonial militias in Massachusetts gathered on Lexington green with the idea of stopping the British Army from marching to Concord and seize weapons stored there. Their bravery did not last long as the Redcoats pointed their muskets at the colonials and ordered them to abandon the green. Just as the colonists were about to leave a shot was fired from the woods that set off a chain reaction of the British soldiers firing on the militia and starting the American Revolution. We may think this rallied the colonists to the cause of liberty, but in fact only about a 1/3 of the colonists ever really supported the revolution. It would even take Congress another year to agree to issue the Declaration of Independence. What actually happened in many parts of the colonies was civil war between the loyalists and the patriots who used the war as justification to kill each other.
In 1846, President James K. Polk, wanting to pull the Mexicans into a fight, sent Gen. Zachery Taylor to Brownsville, Texas, knowing Mexico did not consider the region south of the Nueces River as part of Texas. Taylor got what he wanted, and the Mexican army attacked, giving him the evidence needed to ask Congress for a declaration of war. The Mexican-American War was probably the most controversial and divisive war before Vietnam, with many in the north believing the war was solely for the purpose of expanding slavery. Henry David Thoreau famously went to jail rather than pay taxes to a government engaged in what he considered an immoral war.
A few years later in 1859, radical abolitionist John Brown and several of his followers attacked the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. His plan was to arm the slaves in the region and begin an all-out war for slaves’ emancipation. His plan completely failed yet his attempt closely resembles the 9/11 attack for the south. A religious radical wanted to start a campaign of violence against the south to hurt the south’s way of life. When Brown was hanged for his crimes, people in the north celebrated him as a martyr, further angering the south. How could the man who wanted to kill them be hailed as a hero? Obviously, the Civil War led to America’s greatest division.
In 1898, the USS Maine was attacked while docked in Havana. The American public had been supporting the independence movement of the Cubans against the Spanish and the sinking of the Maine was seen as an attack by Spain. The attack forced President McKinney to ask for a declaration of war. This has been a forgotten but significant war. It was the war that pushed America into an imperial power as it colonized many of the Spanish islands that it just liberated. Though most Americans supported some sort of retaliation for the Maine, the nation became completely divided over a war that gave America colonies.
Then came the 20th Century. Though Americans were not united over every conflict, especially Vietnam, they seemed to come together for the major events. The attack on Pearl Harbor united the nation possibly more than we had ever been before. It was not hard to see the threat from Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan and we needed to come together to defeat an evil threat. Then with the assassination of JFK, we all mourned together. Both Democrats and Republicans, whites and blacks, rich and poor, and north and south shed tears as they watched a young charismatic family man get struck down. Some good came from this. As a nation we came together and passed Kennedy’s bill that became the 1963 Civil Rights Bill. I personally am not sure it would have passed without JFK’s death. We were divided on civil rights, but his death brought us together.
Finally, there was 9/11. As with Pearl Harbor and JFK’s assassination, Americans mourned together as a nation. There will be a lot of discussion on the events of 9/11, as there should be, but what I remember just as much and want to focus on was 9/12. We live in a nation where today some claim the American Flag represents hatred. One leader has claimed she fears people who fly the flag. Yet I still remember twenty years ago when everyone from every walk of life and background flew that flag with pride. There was hardly a home or car without a flag of some sort. At sporting events across the nation, whether it was President Bush throwing out the first pitch at a Yankees game, Mark Messier wearing the FDNY helmet on the ice, or NFL players running out of the tunnel with flags waving, no matter the sport, the crowds chanted “USA-USA-USA.” In 2001, the Women’s National Soccer team represented America at every game the rest of that year, draping themselves with American flags, where now the majority of the team takes a knee when the flag is waved.
9/11 was a tragic day, but it also brought out the best in America. We were as unified as we have ever been as a nation. Personally, I think only Pearl Harbor looms as greater. I still mourn those who died on that day, especially heroes who rushed into the towers, but I also mourn 9/12 just as much. I blame radical Islamists for the death of Americans, but I blame us and our elected leaders for the death of the America that was also born the day after. May we never forget 9/11 and may we ever strive to return to 9/12.
Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.
Hometown Faces: So many good memories
As one who grew up in Front Royal, both John and Suzanne’s interviews brought back so many good memories to this old guy who’s turning 70 next month.
I see that you shot the videos at the home of Prudie Matthews – another good friend from FR days.
John was a great friend of my father, Paul Hockman. He was so right when he talked about how the Town Council and how the Mayor and Council worked so hard for Front Royal. My Dad served for many years on the Council and as Vice-Mayor, and on so many other boards there. Before he passed away, he told me one of the proudest things he ever lived to see was the building of the new school east of town off Rt. 55. He had pushed for the town to purchase that property twenty years before because he knew the property would be needed one day and the price would only go up.
As a child, I remember asking my Dad why he seemed to miss so many dinners at home because he was always at some meeting. He said that he had come to Front Royal with very little and had become successful because the town had been good to him and our family. He said he owed it back to the people of the town to make things always better. He instilled the idea of giving back to me, which I followed serving non-profits and other organizations during my life.
I loved Suzanne’s recollections of Main Street. I have known Suzanne all my life and was a good friend of her late husband, who died much too young. I grew up on Main Street when our family business was there and then moved to Royal Avenue. I spent Saturdays at the Park Theater and often ate at the old Duck Inn. I worked a summer and many college vacations at Joe Silek’s Warren Quality Shop.
Forgive me for rambling, but I remember selling an old gentleman a pair of pajamas there and after the customer left, Mr. Silek asked if I knew I had just sold the p.j.’s to a celebrity. I thought he was crazy, but the customer was Cliff Arquette, the actor who played Charlie Weaver on TV. I really didn’t believe Mr. Silek until Arquette died years later, and they published photos of him without his make-up. Mr. Silek was a wonderful boss and I still use his son as my attorney in FR.
I am surprised that The Examiner has never done a story on the Arquette family in Warren County. His son, also an actor on “The Walton’s”, and his grandchildren, Patricia, Rosanne, etc. all lived at Skymont Camp on Rt. 340. Check out the photo of them at The Melting Pot.
Keep up the good work. I read the Examiner every day. I appreciate your publishing the news releases I send. I am now working part-time only at the state agency. Retired from full-time in February but was asked to stay on for a while. I guess I am a workaholic, as I also just took on a consulting job with TV station here.
Thanks for letting me ramble on. Best Always to you, Roger, and your staff.
The Election of 1856 Redo
Instead of writing an entire new article, I want to recycle one I wrote back in January of 2019 but make some minor changes. Back then I was writing about the upcoming election and comparing it to the 1856 election. With the major crisis we are seeing right now, you can decide if my earlier post was prophetic.
The 1850s were a decade in turmoil, much like our own. Though slavery had been a major social issue for some time, the Federal government avoided the subject with compromise efforts and even a gag rule on the subject only recently repealed. 1854, saw the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the earlier compromise of 1820 that had successfully kept the peace by predetermining whether new states would be free or slave states. With the passage of Kansas-Nebraska, these two new territories could go either way based on the popular vote. With the decision in the hands of the people, thousands flocked to the new territory of Kansas to guarantee it went in their favor. The outcome of this contest is known as Bleeding Kansas. Both pro-slavery elements and anti-slavery elements formed state governments and began violent confrontations over the direction of the state.
As for the politics of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, it was the Democratic President, Franklin Pierce, who signed it into law. Southern Democrats praised the northern president for his decision, who felt abolitionists were tearing apart the nation and tended to side with the south on questions of slavery. However, the northern Democrats saw it differently, especially as northern Democrats took a hit in the 1854 midterm elections and northern voters showed their disappointment in Pierce by electing other parties.
Over the next two years leading up to the 1856 election, the national situation did not improve for Pierce. While part of his party continued to praise him, mostly in the south, other sections were losing faith in his abilities. When it came time for the election, northern Democrats decided they could no longer support Pierce with his connection to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Democratic Party realized the subject was still too toxic and, in order to win a general election, felt they needed to distance themselves from the event and the man. Instead, they went with the completely non-controversial candidate James Buchanan. Fortunately, for Buchanan, he had been Ambassador to England during the controversy and so had absolutely no connection to it. Unfortunately, in their effort to find a candidate with no bad press, the Democrats found a man who many historians consider our worst president ever.
On paper, Buchannan had all the qualifications. He had served as both congressional representative and senator as well as ambassador and, most importantly, as Secretary of State. However, few have left the office with a worse reputation. Part of the blame for his failure was the political environment. With the nation divided as it was, there was little he could do to please the majority of the population, something we know a bit about from recent years. However, part of the blame is his. For instance, he only appointed southern Democrats to his cabinet and excluded all the northerners who were seen as loyal to his democratic rival Stephen Douglas. It is difficult to compromise with the nation when it is impossible to compromise within one’s own party (President Biden is also learning this). Instead of trying to compromise with the difficult issues of his day, especially slavery, Buchanan simply blamed the abolitionists for all the nation’s problems and refused to accept any fault of his own, such as pushing the Supreme Court to rule against Dred Scott, thus creating the situation where slavery could spread across the nation.
If we are at a point in history where we are so divided as a nation that our only comparison is the Civil War, then what scares me is seeing similarities of political events that played out before the conflict happening today. If Mr. Trump runs in 2020 (at the time I was not convinced he would), we might be heading for another 1856, that in an effort to replace a very controversial president the Republicans (or in this case the Democrats) might go with another Buchanan. Someone extremely safe, someone that would put everyone at ease, but someone without the ability to lead. Buchanan sat and watched the events unfold that led to the Civil War, offering no leadership or doing anything to stop it.
Now as I am writing this in 2021 there is some good news. If my 2019 article was correct and Trump is Pierce and Biden is Buchanan, then our next president is Lincoln. We can only hope for our sake that this time history does repeat itself.
Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.
An unlikely friendship points a way for us all
In the midst of such a polarizing time in our nation, I keep coming back to the most unlikely of friendships: that of Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. Polar opposites of the political spectrum, they were each known for their razor-sharp wit, powerful prose, and an unshakable certainty in their own rightness. Their families vacationed together, celebrated one another’s triumphs, and mourned one another’s losses. They even spent many holidays together.
When asked about their friendship, they each admitted that part of it was their mutual appreciation of a good sparring partner, a worthy opponent with whom to debate ideas. But it was based on other things as well. Things such as shared interests, common personal (if not public) values, and a respect for the law.
In an era where the political spectrum is clouded by the smoke of cannon fodder inflicted from each side, we would do well to remember the peculiar bond between these two jurists. Scalia put it this way: “I attack ideas, I don’t attack people – and some very good people have some very bad ideas.”
Hate is the greatest corrupting, destructive influence known to mankind. And at one time or another, all of us are guilty of harboring it. Hate prompted Cain to kill Abel. Hate causes one person to enslave another. If mankind has original sin, it’s hate. It reaches its zenith when we find ourselves incapable of separating the inherent worth of an individual from our perception of the foolishness of their beliefs or behaviors. Further, hating the person provides a convenient excuse to avoid the marketplace of ideas altogether, dismissing ideas based on who holds them rather than debate them on their own merits.
Among their contemporaries, there are no two greater political figures than Ginsburg and Scalia. In some ways, they are practical ‘patron saints’ of their respective ideological camps.
So, to the left, I say, ‘While fighting for your perception of justice and equality, carrying the banner of the Notorious RBG, do not forget that your ideological enemies revere a man who she thought the world of. They, like their beloved Scalia, may have bad ideas worthy of your hatred. But the people themselves are the intellectual offspring of your patron saint’s best friend.’
And to the right, I say, ‘As you fight for your perception of individual liberty and the rule of law, boldly citing the endlessly quotable Saint Antonin’s witticisms, do not lose sight of the fact that it’s his best friend’s acolytes standing in opposition to you. Hate their ideas if you must. But never the holders of those ideas.’
Hate ideas. Not people.
Dr. Matthew B. Pandel
(Dr. Matthew B. Pandel is a behavioral psychologist, theologian, and educator. He resides in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with his wife of 17 years, Carolyn.)
Support of masks and vaccines
I support the governor’s directive for schools to require masks while indoors for both students and staff as well as wearing masks in any indoor spaces as we experience another surge in local Covid cases. I applaud the school board’s decision to move the mitigation plan to phase 2 to begin the school year.
As a recently retired School Nurse and Lead Nurse for our schools, I can assure you that our nurses, administrators, and staff worked extremely hard last year to provide a safe environment in which children can learn. We spent many evenings and weekends doing contact tracing of any known positive cases and their contacts. Those hours will increase as more cases arise.
We taught proper infection control measures. We beefed up teachers’ confidence in basic first aid and supported their assessment skills with routine student symptoms in order to keep the clinic as clean as possible for the safety of students with chronic conditions.
We educated and reminded all staff and children of proper mask-wearing, showing that the way air and germs get into our lungs is through both our nose and mouth as they are connected in the back of our throat.
I spent every week since Covid closed our schools in March 2020 on Zoom calls with the VDOE’s School Health Services Specialist and the VDH’s School Health Nurse Consultant. During the spring, the calls became less frequent as we were seeing the light at the end of this ordeal. Zoom conferences with the Virginia AAP that included experts in all specialties of children’s care who said it would be a very rare case of a child with any physical condition in which wearing a mask would be detrimental to their health.
I want you to understand that we were well-informed and not making this up as we went along.
There is a vocal minority that has said they do not believe in the disease, do not believe they can be asymptomatic spreaders of the disease and do not believe they will get sick and/or die.
In the meantime, there are many in our community who have listened to the science and done everything we’ve been asked to do to keep our families AND our community safe, even those who refuse to keep US safe.
Sadly, some local businesses no longer require masks in the midst of this surge, so I will protect my unvaccinated daughter by once again staying home. She is excited to be going to public school for the first time this year. We will be watching to see if the vocal group sways the School Board’s well-thought-out mitigation plan, negating all efforts to stop this pandemic in our area. We will immediately pull her out of school if their agenda dictates decisions affecting our community’s children.
Front Royal/Warren County could have been well beyond this now if all had pulled together for the good of our community.