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Checks, balances should calm some fears about Trump

Donald Trump won Florida with 49 percent of the vote, but protests against his election continue to break out in cities, including up to 600 demonstrators walking from Lake Eola Park to Orlando City Hall a week ago. But should there be fears about a Trump presidency?

Here is what is missing from the discourse and protests since the election: Some may have genuine reasons for concerns about the election, but for many others, the significant check and balances in our system should alleviate some of the fears about a Trump presidency.

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First, let's not forget what we learned in high-school civics class. The framers of the American system of government were fearful of a powerful leader, as they had experienced in England, so they created a weak executive in the newly created American system of government. Our president cannot enact laws nor has the power of the purse. Our government was created to give the power to the people, which rests in the legislative branch.

Thomas Jefferson is quoted in Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," in saying "The tyranny of the legislature is really the danger most to be feared, and will continue to be so for many years to come."

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The deliberations of the framers in 1787 resulted in an executive with constitutional constraints. In Roger Sherman's words, the executive would be "nothing more than an institution for carrying the will of the Legislature into effect." The modern president has tried to increase his powers beyond the duties specified in our U.S. Constitution by using executive orders, but even those aren't permanent, as they can be reversed.

So Trump, like all presidents, has limited powers to carry out all his campaign promises. The president only has the power of perception and persuasion, not command. It is often a rude awakening for newly elected presidents and their supporters to realize that Congress is the branch that really has the power. It is within the constraints of a weak constitutional executive that Trump must work through the party system and Congress to push his policy priorities.

"Presidential power is the power to persuade," political-scientist Richard Neustadt famously wrote more than 30 years ago in his study about presidential leadership. This seminal study that is said to be widely studied by presidents, their staffs and political-science students also found, "Persuasion and bargaining are the means that presidents use to influence policy. Not only do presidents need to bargain to influence other branches of government (particularly Congress), but presidents also must bargain to influence the executive branch itself."

Another layer in our government to check abuse of power is the filibuster in the U.S. Senate. It is a tactic that can be used by the minority party to delay, block a measure or even kill a nomination. Our history books remind us of the famous 24-hour filibuster in 1957 by Sen. J. Strom Thurmond, in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

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Another reason we do not need to be so fearful of tyranny is that we have a multilayered approach to our system of government. The president is only one of several layers of the bureaucracy in the executive branch, which provides a check on powers.

Every president inherits a corps of experienced senior civil servants. These professionals provide the historical knowledge and technical expertise needed for government continuity regardless of the president's party affiliation and policy preferences. The effectiveness of the American bureaucracy is one of the highest ranking in the world, according to a World Bank study. This bureaucracy allows for a smooth and seamless transition after an election, as well as provides constraints on power.

In many ways, the fears of the presidential-election results are misdirected. We need to be more concerned about the loss of balance of powers in government. The Republican Party will control all levers of power in Washington — executive and legislative branches, and judicial branch, once Trump appoints a Republican U.S. Supreme Court justice).

Republicans are also in control on many levels across the country. Thirty-two state legislatures are Republican-led, and Democrats have 13 state houses. At least 33 of the nation's 50 governors are Republicans.

James Madison in Federalist Paper No. 51 stressed the importance of checks and balances in our government to prevent abuse of power by any branch. With one party in power (regardless of the party) on so many levels of government, our democracy will be tested, and that should really be the fear and focus for us all.

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