Nearly a week after the presidential election, Donald Trump’s impending presidency continues to divide the country. Thousands of protestors have taken to the streets denouncing the president-elect and his hard-line stances, while some are looking to President Barack Obama to overturn the results.
While any decision to overturn the will of the people would be considered highly provocative and unprecedented, there are no explicit statutes governing presidential power in times of national emergency. Though the Constitution limits a president to two terms, various laws and court rulings over time have expanded presidential power, especially in times of security crises, which are not strictly defined. National Security Presidential Directive 51, put forth by the Bush administration, outlines a “comprehensive national policy on the continuity of federal government structures and operations.” The directive determined that the federal government may extend its power in extreme cases of national emergency.
If Obama attempted to block Trump's presidency, he could also potentially implement martial law to keep Trump out of office. Martial law refers to government control through the use of military force. Many of Trump’s supporters have alleged that the current president would impose martial law to keep Trump out of office and extend Obama's presidency, while some of Trump’s detractors hoped Obama would actually do it.
Since Hillary Clinton technically won the popular vote by more than 600,000 votes, Obama could use the "will of the people" to step in with an executive order. Roughly 4 million signatures have already been gathered in an online petition on Change.org asking electors to switch their votes to Clinton.
But the petition is likely more symbolic than realistic, as it is highly unlikely Republican electors will switch their vote from Trump to Clinton. Despite requests for Obama to step in and change the results of the election, he’s made no indication that he’d do so. Instead, he appears to be aiding in a smooth transition from one administration to another after a cordial 90-meeting in the Oval Office last week.
“I have instructed my team to follow the example that President Bush’s team set eight years ago, and work as hard as we can to make sure that this is a successful transition for the president-elect, because we are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country,” he said while speaking at the White House the day after the election. “The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. And over the next few months, we are going to show that to the world.”