Less than three months into his term, President Donald Trump has enacted several controversial reforms. In his first week alone, Trump passed six executive orders, decrees issued by the president that are carried out as laws.
Those orders include cancelling the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal negotiations, attempting to prohibit travel and refugee immigration from six Middle Eastern and African countries, ordering the building of a wall along our southern border, reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and removing aid from non-governmental organizations that counsel abortion as an option.
Although I do not agree with Trump’s political choices, the president is not alone in his frequent executive order usage. While in office, former President Barack Obama championed individual rights, established universal health care, offered childhood immigrants protection, and strived to curb greenhouse gas emissions, all by invoking presidential executive orders.
According to the United States National Archives and Records Administration, Obama used executive orders 277 times, no small number, but not out of line with former President George W. Bush’s 291 times, William J. Clinton’s 364 times, Ronald Reagan’s 381 times, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 3,522 times. Indeed, the Pew Research Center indicates that Obama’s average of 34 uses per year is less than any president since Grover Cleveland, who first took office in 1885.
Regardless of political divisions, we should all find this widespread usage of the presidential executive order concerning.
The executive order’s circumvention of our tedious, thorny legislative process destroys the chance to legitimize presidential actions in the eyes of the legislative branch and the eyes of the people.
Executive orders can be great tools. They can eliminate time-consuming congressional gridlock, enhance a president’s efficacy, and enable America’s elected president to pursue controversial legislation.
Perhaps the most famous executive order is Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which aided in freeing millions of slaves. Moreover, former Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s directives to desegregate the army and schools both came through executive orders.
But, it is precisely because the executive order is largely unfettered that I find it alarming. While executive orders can be struck down by courts if deemed unconstitutional, they do not require congressional approval, allowing highly partisan legislation to be passed in a cavalier manner.
When Obama failed to secure the support he needed to advance his agenda, he acted alone. At the time, I found his actions courageous, but his employment of the executive order may now lead to the quick erasure of his legacy.
The American governmental system is predicated upon checks and balances, a rigorous system that attempts to slow down the progression of new laws in order to ensure the will of the majority is achieved. In the wrong hands, executive orders could prove dangerous and disastrous.
I once cheered Obama’s executive orders. Now, as I watch Trump invent new laws unilaterally, I am wary of the system that allows these interventions.