Time to reduce reliance on government by executive order

Most Americans are uncomfortable with the idea that a president can simply change the law by issuing an Executive Order. Such orders cut Congress out of the loop and threaten the vital system of checks and balances built into our Constitution.

Public frustration with many of President Obama’s Executive Orders played an important role in helping Donald Trump win the election. His supporters naturally want many of these orders overturned and the president-elect has promised to deliver on day one.

Politically, that makes complete sense, and it’s the right thing to do. But, how the new president goes about it could be more important than the specific actions he takes. Done properly, the day one orders could be a great step forward towards a healthier governing process. Done poorly, they could make a bad situation worse.

The core problem is that there is a natural tension between a desire for action and a respect for process. Right now, Trump supporters want action.

This problem is aggravated by the fact that support or opposition to Executive Orders often depends upon which executive gets to issue the orders. Many progressive Democrats were thrilled when President Obama claimed great authority to get around Congressional Republicans. They weren’t all that concerned about potential abuses of authority because they expected the next president would be Hillary Clinton.

In fact, many progressive Democrats convinced themselves that demographic trends made it impossible for any Republican to become president in the foreseeable future. So, they were quite happy to support a president’s right to ignore Congress and act on his own. That all changed on election night. Now, there is panic among the political left because Donald Trump will be the one issuing Executive Orders.

Many Trump supporters, of course, have the opposite perspective. They hope their champion will issue orders that will advance their cause and drive the opposition crazy. Sure, they hated the idea of a president acting alone when the president was named Obama, but not anymore. In fact, rather than opposing unilateral action, many Trump supporters want the new president to replace the orders they hate with orders they love.

For the sake of the nation, the president-elect should take a different approach.

The Trump Administration should come to embody a rejection of government by Executive Order. Rather than ruling like a king, the new president should welcome Congress and state governments back into the decision-making process.

There’s a straightforward way to do this while still delivering the immediate action demanded by Trump voters. On day one, the new president should unwind or reject many Executive Orders issued by his predecessor. That would deliver on campaign promises concerning trade, environmental issues, health care, and other issues voters care about.

But, after undoing the Obama orders, he should resist the temptation to simply replace them with new orders reflecting his own personal preferences. Instead, he should respect the Constitutional process by asking Congress for legislation to bring about the changes he desires. Additionally, the new president should nominate judges who understand that freedom and democracy can be preserved only with a strong system of checks and balances.

If President-elect Trump follows this restrained approach, the nation will have a lot to be thankful for next Thanksgiving.