Imagine that when Donald Trump is president, he announces he’s going to host a new TV game show called Foreign Policy. It will work pretty much like The Apprentice, except instead of telling the losers “You’re fired!” Trump will bark “You’re dead!” And boom goes the drone!
Pretty scary, huh? Except President Obama is already playing that game with drone strikes in the Middle East, with someplace in the ballpark of 3,500 losers so far. Sure, Trump says he’ll expand the use of drones into blowing up not just terrorists but their families too, but is that really such a big leap for a program of systematic killings that already has no judge, jury or Congressional authorization?
Allowing a U.S. president an 007ish license to kill whoever he pleases is not the only thing American liberals might want to rethink as Trump knocks on the White House door.
Once harsh critics of what they called The Imperial Presidency, liberals for the past eight years have reveled in the idea of unfettered presidential power, cheering as President Obama casually discarded Congressional mandates.
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But now it’s time for a new progressive watchword: WWPTD, What Would President Trump Do? If Trump is really alarmingly like Hitler, maybe it’s time we restored some checks and balances to our government. And at the very top of the list should be Obama’s use of sweeping executive orders as a way to sidestep Congress.
There was widespread liberal grief at the Supreme Court deadlock last month that essentially scuttled a series of Obama executive orders that extended amnesty to as many as five million illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children and had no criminal record.
But however much you sympathize with those immigrants (and I certainly do, a lot), Congress had specifically refused to give them amnesty when it rejected a bill Obama supported, the so-called Dream Act, in 2010.
The president’s executive orders amounted to a decree that he’s beyond the will of Congress. This isn’t the hyperbole of his critics, but his own words. “We can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job,” he declared in 2011. “Where they won’t act, I will.”
This wasn’t the first time Obama has regally set aside the work of Congress. From welfare reform (he waived provisions of a law that conditioned receipt of benefits on working) to gay marriage (he instructed the Justice Department to quit defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court), he simply tosses out laws that he doesn’t like.
Obama is not the first president to use executive orders, of course, and he often argues that he has issued fewer of them than most of his recent predeccessors. That’s true, but sheer numbers are not the way to measure presidential imperiousness. Most executive orders concern such weighty matters as the width of the margins on presidential documents. (George W. Bush, appalled by the paper-wasting rules set by the Kennedy administration, cut the margins from 1.25 inches to a thrifty 1.0.)
Obama’s orders have countermanded Congress in ways not seen since the days when Harry Truman seized the entire U.S. steel industry and Franklin Roosevelt locked 120,000 Japanese Americans up in detention camps — two executive orders that starkly illustrate the possible consequences of letting presidents act like kings.
That, of course, is not the lesson Donald Trump draws from the history of executive orders. He thinks they’re the stuff of greatness, especially the ones Roosevelt issued during World War II “having to do with alien Germans, alien Italians, alien Japanese,” he said last year.
“They went through a whole list of things — they couldn’t go five miles from their homes, they weren’t allowed to use radios, flashlights. Take a look at what FDR did many years ago, and he’s one of the most highly respected presidents. They named highways after him.” What Would President Trump Do? It sounds like, a lot.