On March 1, President Joe Biden delivers the annual State of the Union address. But what is the state of our constitutional system of checks and balances? Over time, presidents have exercised increasing power, some of it delegated by Congress, some of it assumed unilaterally. From the war powers to executive orders, how has the Biden administration grappled with the inheritance of its predecessors? When is presidential power legitimate, and when is it problematic? Can an often invisible Congress regain its prerogatives vis-à-vis the imperial presidency?
Polarization is often discussed as a modern phenomenon, something that has happened in the past half-century. While no doubt true, this framing omits the constitutional underpinnings that exacerbate polarization and leave it entrenched in the specific way we see it now. The constitution framework ultimately creates a political environment where the ideological parties of our own day cannot meet the prerequisites set by the constitutional system. Power can be gained for a time—meaning an election cycle or two—but not in a sustained or sizable way. The resulting national politics is one where the parties may be ideologically coherent but are incapable of meeting the bar set by the Constitution.