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Make it so

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Thursday, February 02, 2017 07:30 am

All my professional life, I've been listening to and writing about politicians who promise to go into office "and run government like a business." Of course, they forget all about that once they're actually in office. There are too many differences between government and business for one to emulate the other, and most politicians quickly discover this.Let's see if Donald Trump does. He is the first president who seems to be actually trying to run government like a business. His authoritarian streak has been much commented on, but I think it's important to remember that it's the kind of authoritarianism common to big league CEOs, not politicians. Trump is use to just doing what he thinks needs to be done, or dictating to a subordinate, Capt. Picard style, to "make it so."  The checks and balances stemming from the separation of powers are undoubtedly frustrating to him.

Hence the avalanche of executive orders:

In his first 10 days in office, President Trump issued 20 executive actions, more than any incoming president in the modern era.

[. . .]

Obama, for his part, issued 18 president actions (executive orders, memoranda, national security directives and proclamations) during his first 10 days in office.

Of course, 20 is not that much more than 18, but what the heck. Everybody who was outraged by Obama's executive overreach is strangely silent now, and everybody who was silent about Obama's EOs is strangely outraged now. We can all call each other hypocrites and feel smugly self-righteous at the end of the day.

It's not the number of executive actions that are important but the scope and sweep of them, and whether they involve actions beyond the proper role of the president. That's what Obama was criticized for and how Trump has to be judged, too. The scope of  some of his orders has been huuuge, but as far as I can tell, they haven't strayed into constitutionally questionable territory. The closest call is probably on his immigration moratorium, and there seems to be plenty of opinion on both sides of the question of Trump's right to do it. But it's only a temporary moratorium, at the end of which we're supposed to have better vetting in place. That's how that order has to be judged, by whether or not it actually achieves it's goal.

The main problem with the immigration EO was the haphazard, hasty way it was implemented, causing confusion and creating hardships that need not have been created.

And that can be a big problem for all future executive orders. They will be thoughtful and useful only insofar as a lot of good people have input into them. The more they are the product of Trump's will and Trump's will alone, the more likely they are to be impetuous and risky. The other problem is, of course, that executive orders last only until the next president decides to undo them, as Barack Obama certainly must understand by now.

We cannot have government by executive order. No matter what his businessman's instincts tell him, Trump surely knows that. At some point, Congress is going to have to step in on the big stuff, like tax reform, replacing Obamacare and reforming immigration top to bottom. Watching how the Congress-Trump dynamic plays out will tell us a lot about what kind of presidency this will be.


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