Don’t Panic About President Trump—The Real Power in U.S. Politics Lies Elsewhere

On November 8, 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States of America. A statement of simple fact, that has created in almost equal parts shock and awe.

Shock that a man who defied all known conventions of campaigning could win; awe that he could do so given the doom-laden predictions of what a Trump presidency would mean.

Will Trump be our greatest president? Only time will tell. Will he be the architect of World War III? Doubtful. But to those who fear the worst—an easy trap to fall into —let me offer some reassurance.  

I write as a lifelong Republican who did not vote for Trump (and could not vote for Hillary). But I am not scared by his election, and neither should you be.  We may still be a young country, but as we say back home in Texas—this ain’t our first rodeo.

Our country was founded on the principle that no single branch of government should have unlimited power.  This is why the writers of our Constitution painstakingly outlined the powers, checks and balances of each branch.

After a campaign like no other, there’s little doubt that we will see a new style of government. It is easy to look at Trump’s stance on key policy issues and worry. But those concerned must question how he will be able to achieve the changes he promised. To answer this, you must look beyond the executive branch to the legislative branch.

Congress, the legislature, is where the real power in U.S. politics lies. It is where policy is made and where budgets are determined. The legislative branch’s purpose is to be the voice of the people, and it historically does not like being dictated to from the White House.

The current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan—Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012—has been critical of Trump and even refused to do campaign events with him, but he was one of the first people to call and congratulate the president-elect on his victory.

Ryan later said that Trump will lead a “unified Republican party.” However, after months of criticism, will Trump support Ryan’s bid to be re-elected as speaker? Or will he, at his peril, try to meddle in the affairs of Capitol Hill?

This relationship with Congress can often be tense and tricky to navigate. Many people have questioned whether Trump will use executive orders to circumvent congress and implement his agenda. Top of the list is the fear he will build that wall along with U.S.-Mexican border.

It is important to note that while a president can push through executive orders, Congress controls the purse strings—meaning it determines where the money is spent.

So, even though Trump could issue an executive order to build his wall, if Congress deems this spending as reckless, they can pass an act to defund it.

This “power of the purse”’ means it is essential that the president works with Congress. If he is seen to be overstepping his constitutional authority, the threat of defunding his programs may become real.

Look also to Trump’s running mate, the Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence. The president-elect is new to Washington, D.C., but the vice-president-elect is not. A seasoned politician, Pence served as a member of congress for 12 years before becoming governor in 2013. He is likely to be the guiding hand of the Trump administration on Capitol Hill.

Pence was chosen not because of a long, deep friendship with Trump, but rather because he represented the Republican party’s base; he stands for Republican core values and policies. He will be a key ally to congressional members in making sure their voice is heard in the Oval Office.

The vice-president-elect will have the tricky job of playing defense for Trump, but this doesn’t mean that he will follow his boss blindly. Pence has not been shy about speaking out against his running mate and has sought to hold him to account.Think of him as the internal “checks and balances” in the White House.

The Cabinet too, will serve as a moderating influence on Trump, and we await his selections with bated breath as this will give the first indication of the tone of his administration.

But whoever he picks, and however he acts, I have faith in our democracy and the strength of the Republic.

Stacy Hilliard is chair of American Voices International, an independent political action committee and former vice-chair of Republicans Abroad UK