Congress has abdicated its role at the center of U.S. political life. As a result, the constitutional powers that should be exercised by Congress in both domestic and foreign policy have been progressively appropriated by the executive branch. At times, presidents have seized those powers through exigent circumstances or congressional desuetude and ineffectiveness. Just as frequently, however, Congress has been willing—if not eager—to cede those prerogatives to the president whether for the sake of expediency, emergency, efficiency, electoral maneuvering, or in a deliberate effort to deflect political consequences. This has made the country less democratic, more authoritarian, and decreasingly likely to solve complex problems that require a broad range of perspectives and thoughtful deliberation. The article explores how this abdication has occurred throughout U.S. history in a variety of areas, including U.S. foreign relations, the constitutional war powers, national emergencies, and delegations of power. This article is a revised and expanded version of the author’s presidential address at 2019 annual meeting of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, delivered August 1, 2019, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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