President Trump has hit the ground running. In just two weeks he has already signed a flurry of EOs. In my opinion, he gets points for decisiveness and for following through on his campaign promises. Most politicians would have been more deliberate. Some would not have followed through on their campaign promises at all. For example, remember Bush 41’s pledge: “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Or, perhaps you recall Obama’s pledge, “If you like your [health] plan, you can keep it; if you like your doctor you can keep him.” (I don’t mean those as criticisms of those presidents, per se. (All politicians obfuscate or lie, at times, to some extent. That’s why every poll reports them to be so disliked. I merely present these as examples.)
On the other hand, some commentators and analysts have characterized his actions as rash or not vetted properly. These critics may have a point, to a degree. I believe that most of Trump’s EOs will be beneficial to the country, but, in at least one case, I believe he acted somewhat precipitously to his and the country’s detriment. Below please find my assessment of a few of these orders but, first, a little background.
EOs do not have the force of law. Only Congress can pass laws. In theory, their purpose is to enable the executive branch to manage its operation more efficiently. It’s not always necessary or even advisable for the president to wait for Congress to deliberate over a minor matter. Many EOs are routine and uncontroversial, for example, JFK’s EO to establish the Peace Corps and LBJ’s EO to appoint the Warren Commission to investigate JFK’s assassination. Others, such as Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves residing in the Confederacy, and FDR’s decision to inter Japanese-Americans during WWII were more controversial.
Presidents have used EOs since the beginning of the Republic, some often, some seldom. According to a study published by the American Presidency Project at the University of California, John Adams, James Monroe and James Madison only signed one each, whereas FDR signed the most, 3,721, followed by Woodrow Wilson with 1,803 and Calvin Coolidge with 1,203. (Of course, FDR was President for 13 years.)
At least in recent times, presidents have often been criticized by the opposition party for many of their EOs. For example, on a few occasions, Obama was criticized for using EOs to bypass Congress, and a few were overturned by the courts eventually, but he only averaged some 40 EOs a year, about the same as his predecessor, Bush 43.
Back to a few of President Trump’s EOs:
- Keystone pipeline – This one seems to me to be a “no-brainer.” It will transport oil from Canada to the Gulf easily, cheaply, and safely. It will create jobs; it will be environmentally safer then transporting by train or truck; and it will reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Nevertheless, many environmentalists are opposed to it.
- Trans Pacific Partnership – Trump has pulled out of this arrangement, citing it is not in America’s best interests. I am inclined to agree, but, Democrats and some of the other participants, such as Australia, have expressed displeasure. Also, this could create a vacuum for China to exploit in the region.
- Affordable Care Act – There is not much Trump can accomplish in this area by EO, but he will be waiving penalties against those who elect not to pay for insurance and he will allow individual states greater flexibility in administering the ACA. These actions, though seemingly minor, will put a severe crimp in the ACA or, perhaps, gut it.
- Abortion – This is an extremely controversial and emotional issue, particularly among women. According to the latest CBS News poll from January 2017, 75% of Americans are in favor of abortion being available, half of them said “generally” and half favored availability under “stricter limits.” According to a Quinnipiac University poll at the same period 46% would favor a ban after 20 weeks (so-called “late term abortions”) and 46% would oppose such a ban. For many, it is the “litmus test” issue. Many “choosers” are concerned that Trump opposes the Roe v Wade decision and wants to eliminate abortions entirely for any reason. I think that’s extreme and a mischaracterization of his position. In my opinion, it’s more likely that he will seek to limit late term abortions. Personally, I would be in favor of that as there is strong evidence that late term fetuses are viable outside the womb. Trump’s opening salvo in this area was to prohibit foreign aid to any non-government organization that is offering abortion counseling or other services in foreign countries, even if abortion is legal in that country.
- Financial Regulations – Trump has taken steps to ease the financial constraints on the financial services industry imposed by the Graham-Dodd Act. The Act was precipitated by the financial crisis of 2008-2009, which almost brought the financial markets to its knees. But, the Act has proven to be very burdensome, especially to small firms, and memories have faded after eight years. Hopefully, they won’t go too far the other way. The financial services industry needs sensible regulation and government oversight to protect investors.
- The Wall – Trump has taken initial steps to secure our southern border. He still insists Mexico will pay for it. Mexico has adamantly refused. The most likely outcome is that the US will lay out the money and find a way to charge back Mexico indirectly. There are various proposals under consideration. This has been very controversial on many fronts and will no doubt continue as such prospectively.
- Immigration Restrictions – This has been the most controversial, and I could spend an entire blog on it. Both sides have valid points. On balance, I think there is a significant danger in allowing immigrants from locales where proper vetting is not possible. Just look at the situations in France, Germany and the UK. That said, the rollout was mishandled. Cabinet members, staff, and customs and border personnel were not briefed sufficiently beforehand, which resulted in the chaotic airport scenes we all saw on tv. Lost in the shuffle are the facts that the seven countries were selected based on recommendations of the Obama Administration and that the ban is temporary until enhanced vetting procedures can be established. As I write this, a judge has issued a restraining order, which the Administration will likely appeal. Hopefully, the Administration will learn from this error and do better prospectively.
Trump remains a very controversial president. Most people have very strong opinions towards him, pro or con. Part of it is because of his unique style and personality. He is fighting a three-front war – the Democrats, the media, and even some in his own party. His most virulent enemies do not seem even to want to give him a chance. He was being criticized before he even took office. Some have even questioned the validity of the election, itself.
In order to be successful, he must be cognizant of the fact that his enemies will be monitoring his actions very closely and will take every opportunity to pounce on his errors, real or fabricated. Reporting will often be distorted or even outright false, for example, the charge that he removed MLK’s bust from the White House.
I believe Trump can effect real change if given a fair chance. Let’s hope he gets it.