One Executive Order…Two Executive Orders…Ah, Who’s Counting?

Although presidents throughout American history have rarely shied away from utilizing excess executive actions, why do we allow such unilateral decisions in a republican form of government? Have we not learned from history? Do we not realize that Andrew Jackson made his own interpretation of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 when he committed genocide against Native Americans? What about Franklin Roosevelt when he confiscated all gold in the United States and forced Japanese Americans into concentration camps? Executive fiat without congressional approval often leads to negative consequences and sets bad precedents, and as we have seen with the COVID-19 crisis, emergency dictatorial power can destroy people’s lives (in this case, only to find out that these orders did not halt the spread of the virus and still came with an array of societal and economic costs).

President Biden is starting to conform to his position well, and his two predecessors were certainly no strangers to the use of unauthorized edicts. Generally, whichever political party is in power at the time praises their leader’s actions and condemns the opposing party’s similar measures, and vice versa. However, on principle (something both parties lack), we should not be thrilled by the consolidation of power in the hands of one man (or woman).

Under President Obama, two actions, in particular, were concerning from a separation of powers concept: DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Although I agree with the idea behind both executive actions, on principle, they were not conducted in the proper manner and are not constitutionally sound. After Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act, Obama was upset and created his own law to allow illegal immigrant children, who were brought to the United States at an early age and by no fault of their own, to apply for a program that would defer their deportation for at least two years and allow them to apply for work permits. I agree that these children should not be deported (past presidents have prioritized deportations and overlooked certain individuals due to lack of resources in rounding up every illegal immigrant), but Obama took it a step further and legislated his own program into existence.

The concept of presidents negotiating executive agreements with foreign powers (a treaty in all but name) has been around for some time, but this does not mean that it is constitutional. Treaties must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate, yet Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran did not meet this criteria set forth by the Constitution. Although participating in a deal to halt sanctions and prevent war with Iran was sound policy and was better than the alternative scenario, the president having sole power to enter into treaties is not something that should be praised (even if there is precedent for it).

President Trump had a couple of concerning measures as well that were conducted through executive action pertaining to immigration. Early in his presidency, he legislated his own immigration policy through a couple of executive orders that established bans on individuals migrating to the United States based on national origin and a non-existent national security threat. He started with bans from seven Muslim-majority countries, and then after being challenged in court, he added North Korea, Venezuela, Myanmar, Tanzania, Eritrea, and Nigeria (Muslims do make up a slight majority over Christians in this African country) in order to not appear to be discriminating against Muslims. However, freezing immigration and refugee entry based on national origin or religion is not constitutionally sound, and furthermore, this is not something that should be done through executive edict.

After failing to get the funds from Congress (or Mexico) considered necessary to build his border wall, President Trump decided to redistribute funds from other places in the federal budget to pay for the large infrastructure project. However, reappropriating funds is not permitted by the Constitution, and according to this document, only the House of Representatives may originate bills related to spending, even if the executive branch declares an emergency (in this case, it was clearly not even that). Therefore, President Trump overstepped his authority to attempt to create a barrier that was never going to work in the first place.

Both Presidents Obama and Trump failed on their human rights records, and the whole idea of “kids in cages” started with Obama (though he only held them for three days or less and tried to keep families together) and then ended horribly with Trump (his separation of immigrant families and conditions of the cages were abhorrent). Then, of course, there were the endless slaughters of civilians in drone strikes in certain targeted countries where a declaration of war by Congress was never issued (drone warfare was initiated under the Bush administration). During the Bush and Obama administrations, there were also the indefinite detention and torture of “enemy combatant” issues. The United States government (under administrations of both parties) have committed atrocities by executive fiat, and it does not seem likely that this will change under a Biden administration.

In fact, President Joe Biden has issued more executive actions in his first week and a half in office than any other president (forty-two at the time of this writing), and although some may argue that this was because of the necessity to reverse the former president’s policies and respond to the pandemic, this is a dangerous precedent to set. Some of the reversals included reinstating the former DACA provisions, ending the border wall project, re-entering the World Health Organization, and reversing the immigration bans, but it should now be clear to the American public that executive abuse of power has been a consistent problem for many years (it is now Republicans’ turn to criticize executive orders and Democrats’ turn to praise them).

He issued several initial orders on the climate, immigration, economics, and the pandemic. The Paris Agreement (which was a treaty entered into by executive agreement under the Obama administration without the required two-thirds approval by the Senate) was withdrawn by President Trump and will now take effect as a treaty through the decision of only one man. Also on the environment front, President Biden terminated Trump’s permit (also issued through action) for the Keystone XL pipeline (the oil will still be produced, but now it will be transported by truck, which is just as dangerous, if not more so). President Trump was also responsible for executive orders to pause student debt and residential rent payments for those who were unable to pay due to financial issues caused by the pandemic, and the new president will continue these policies without congressional approval.

Additionally, related to the pandemic, the president issued several orders, including having FEMA send additional payments to states for national guard units that participated in the pandemic response; creating brand new federal vaccination sites; forming a brand new cabinet position to act as a pandemic coordinator; establishing a new program to boost the development of therapeutics; prohibiting travel of immigrants and non-immigrants from a number of countries (something that suddenly becomes acceptable because it is not Trump doing the banning); requiring mask-wearing on all federal property, airports and airplanes, trains, intercity buses, and maritime vessels; and requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to arrival in the United States.

None of these actions have been passed by Congress, but hey, who needs that pesky legislature to vote on bills and decide what becomes law? Executive orders take the effect of laws, so why not just bypass the body that will just slow down progress anyways? Having a republic does not mean a thing when we have paternal benevolence to guide our nation, and monarchy is best form of governance in this high-paced century in which we find ourselves.

We have already seen checks and balances fade away at the state level during the pandemic, and the erosion of this concept has been in the works at the federal level for many years. Hopefully, Americans will wake up and recall the proper procedures from their history textbooks, but if not, our country may end up repeating the failures of past authoritarian empires.

Thank you for reading, and please check out my book, The Global Bully, and website.
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Published on January 31, 2021 13:58
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