“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad because it’s going to put up a fight.” – President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) from “The American President”
This is not another bash President Trump story; there are plenty of those out there and I do not feel the need to pile on. Love him or hate him, Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States in 2016, and while his behavior and use of social media earn him plenty of negative press, there is something bigger going on more people should be talking about.
While working hard to reserve judgement, let’s take a look at some of the things Trump has done since taking office without Congressional approval:
- Executive Order 1308 was described as imposing sanctions on Venezuela to build on a state of emergency declared in 2015. The end game for this executive order was an attempted US coup d’etat in Venezuela back in March of 2019, one that has thus far been labeled a failure. Why would the US take such an action? Not to put too fine a point on it, Venezuela is one of the world’s largest exporters of oil and has the world’s largest proven oil reserves at an estimated 296.5 billion barrels (20% of global reserves) as of 2012. Controlling resources, especially oil, has always been one of the primary goals of the United States and the primary motivating factor for all military actions.
- Executive_Order_13798 was called a defense of religious freedom, which sounds great. After all, the founding fathers were quite adamant that their budding young country be free from religious persecution. They were, after all, fleeing the harsh and strict rule of the Church of England. If one actually reads the executive order, though, it does something very different. In the past, churches were afforded a tax exempt status so long as they refrained from endorsing politicians or political issues.
Following this executive order, churches can make limitless donations to political campaigns while still maintaining their tax exempt status. Trump promised to do this when he was accepting millions of dollars in donations from megachurches across the country, and this order will enable him to continue to rake in that money, unabated. So much for separation of church and state. While the Bill of Rights built what Thomas Jefferson called a “wall of separation between church and state,” the fear was that the government would seek to establish a state religion. What we have now is the reverse, with megachurches attempting to enforce their will on government, which is equally undesirable.
- Executive Order 13771 claims to “reduce regulation and controlling regulatory costs.” Sounds good, and it’s what’s expected from a political party traditionally built on fiscal conservatism. Unfortunately, this is another deception. Order 13771 was a gateway to future orders (13778, 13781, 13783 among them) that essentially dismantled the national parks system and opened up previously protected lands to … you probably guessed … oil drilling. These orders also repealed environmental protections signed by President Barack Obama which protected the country’s waterways from industrial pollution. For more on the damage being done to our National Parks, read here. To read more about the 95 environmental protections Trump has rolled back to date, read here.
- In June of 2019, President Trump decided to withhold federal aid to Ukraine which was approved by both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. He did so because he wanted Ukraine officials to do what amounted to opposition research on Hunter Biden, son of the previous Vice President, Joe Biden. Anticipating that the elder would be his opponent in the 2020 election, Trump wanted to find as much ammunition as he could to use against Biden in the run-up to the election. His advisers told him that such an action would cause Congress to “come unhinged,” and it did just that, with the House voting to impeach Trump. The Senate, led by majority leader Mitch McConnell chose not to pursue the matter for political reasons, allowing Trump to break the law and violate the Constitution with impunity.
- Since being elected, President Trump has signed a number of executive orders and actions which he claims to be part of an “America First” initiative, which sounds good. Unfortunately, there have been unintended side effects to these actions which seem to be the result of Trump officials not fully understanding the bigger picture regarding the economic policies put in place by previous Presidents of both political parties.
One example of this is the ongoing trade war with China, which has caused broad fluctuations in global markets and wrecked havoc as economists attempt to figure out what Trump’s policy-by-Twitter will unleash next. Trump’s base, in particular, is being hurt by the trade war, and in an attempt to repair the damage done to America’s farming community Trump recently issued a $12 billion bail out using taxpayer dollars. This is hardly fiscal conservatism, and is completely unsustainable.
So what’s the bigger picture here? If we step back and take an Ishmael view of things, what can we learn?
Essentially, the increased use of executive orders and the unwillingness of Congress to provide the oversight and enforcement powers given them by the Constitution has transformed the American President into a king who wields essentially absolute power. It comes at a time when the American people have allowed a lifelong criminal to reside in the White House, making this situation even more dangerous.
I said at the beginning that this would not be about bashing Trump, and it really isn’t. Let’s take a look at another, very possible scenario.
Let’s say that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is elected President in November. His platform is one that some find objectionable, but is also wildly popular, featuring an expansion of Medicare to cover everyone, free college education and the Green New Deal, which tackles climate change, unemployment and infrastructure all in one huge package. If Sanders were to utilize the same precedents exploited by Donald Trump, and if a partisan Congress opted to let him act with impunity, he could essentially make all of these programs the new laws of the land on his first day in office.
That would be just fine with millions of Americans (including this one), but it would royally tick off Republicans and possibly some conservative Democrats.
What bothers me, though, is the fact that this is what the American Presidency has evolved, or perhaps devolved, into. A system that was built around the concept of compromise, where two parties were forced to sit down and negotiate with each other to arrive at balanced leadership has become all or nothing for whichever side is in power. Yes, Donald Trump has taken full advantage of this in ways no one could have imagined, but he is not the cause, merely a symptom of a terribly broken system.
Sadly, this is one of those situations where once the toothpaste is out of the tube it’s awfully hard to get it back in. Do the American people even care enough to notice? Only by taking notice, holding leaders accountable and demanding better can we fix this system of government.
Your first chance comes in November. Choose carefully.